Global hi-tech companies in Israel seek Arab engineers to fill shortage

About 100 participants from hi-tech companies around the country came to Nazareth this week to learn about opportunities for Israeli Arabs in hi-tech.

March 12, 2015 22:37
3 minute read.
nazareth hi-tech

PARTICIPANTS FROM companies around the country learn about opportunities for Israeli Arabs in hi-tech at an event in Nazareth, March 11, 2015. (photo credit: PELI HANAMER)


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Global hi-tech companies operating in Israel, including Google, Intel and Microsoft, are looking to Israeli Arabs to help fill a shortage of engineers.

“We just need people in hi-tech,” Yoram Yaacovi, who heads the Microsoft R&D center in Israel, said at an event on Arab hi-tech in Nazareth on Wednesday. “The number of graduates in hi-tech in Israel are declining. Arabs are not present enough in our industry today, we need more people, and there’s definitely a lot of talent in the Arab sector.”

Intel, which employs more Arabs than any other hi-tech company in Israel (in part due to the sheer size of its 10,000-strong workforce), doesn’t see enough engineers coming through the pipeline of the Israeli education system.

Just 6 percent of Israeli high-school students get the highest marks on their math matriculation exams, according to Revital Bitan, Intel’s head of corporate social responsibility “In Israel, we face a shortage of engineers, and for us, applying to the Arab sector expands our pipeline [and] our potential to hire the best,” she said.

Hiring Arab talent not only helps fill empty positions, it also improves outcomes through increasing diversity, according to both Bitan and Yaacovi.

“All our business is based on innovation,” Bitan said, “and you can’t create innovation with people who think the same, look the same and do the same. Innovation is about diversity.”

The global players were not the only ones in the room.

About 100 participants from hi-tech companies around the country came to Nazareth to learn about opportunities for Israeli Arabs in hi-tech.

“You here are the leaders of hi-tech, of industry,” said Sami Saadi, a founder of Tsofen, an NGO that focuses on increasing Arab integration into hi-tech and the organizer of the event. “You’re the proof that we didn’t exaggerate” about the possibilities of Arabs in Israel’s hi-tech sector.

Yet Israeli Arabs face many barriers to entry in the hi-tech market. Primary education in Arab schools is underfunded and behind the curve. Those who make it to higher education – about 21% of Technion students in engineering are Arabs – face barriers to the market, including some cultural barriers. For example, Arab applicants tend to be more risk averse when it comes to job applications, taking rejections harder.

A large proportion of Israeli Arabs educated in hi-tech end up working in other fields or often teaching. Lack of public transportation from Arab towns and cities also makes it more difficult to get to work in hi-tech centers. There also remains a level of discrimination in hiring Arabs among some Jewish Israelis.

A lack of qualified hi-tech workers is a big concern for Israel’s economy, where hi-tech has a larger share of business output than any other country in the OECD, according to a report compiled by Bank of Israel researcher Nitza Kasir.

One of the main challenges in both the hi-tech sector and the Arab sector is increasing women’s employment. Kasir’s study found that Arab women with the most “modern” worldviews – on a scale defined by education, marital status, number of children and having a drivers license – participated in the labor market at a rate of 75.4%.

They accounted for 9.2% of Arab women. In contrast, just 1% of those with the most “traditional” worldviews, which accounted for 19.1% of Arab women, participated in the labor force.

Yet if the government were to invest in measures to boost Arab women’s participation in the workforce, they would get it all back plus another 7% over 40 years, according to Kasir’s research, which she said was based on very conservative estimates.

The global companies make efforts to tap into the Arab workforce on multiple fronts, such as holding round tables for Arab hi-tech students and, in some cases, opening up work centers in places like Nazareth.

The latter, according to Avital Yanovsky, Tsofen’s point person on “the triangle” (a largely Arab area in the North), is the best way to get around many of the structural problems.

“It solves issues of public transportation, problems for women being far from home and the kids, and other infrastructure issues,” she said.

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