The primary driver of Israel’s economy, its world-renowned hi-tech sector, is under threat, jeopardized by a lack of skilled professionals able to match growing demand.
Seeking to bridge Israel’s employment gap, a new coalition led by nonprofit organization Start-Up Nation Central launched Thursday its program to enhance Arab and ultra-Orthodox human capital in the Jerusalem hi-tech workforce – two key population groups that have failed to reach their employment potential. The project will be known as ExcellenTeam.
The launch of the project follows a landmark survey published by Start-Up Nation Central last year revealing the extent of the human capital shortage in the technology sector – a serious deficit of some 15,000 skilled professionals. If Israel continues to rely on only a small segment of its population, primarily Jewish non-ultra Orthodox men, this deficit will grow worse over time.
While a significant number of Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox women graduate from university computer science programs every year, together they represent less than 2% of hi-tech employees, and even then they often occupy low-end or low-wage positions.
The capital city’s demographics, composed of 37% Arabs and 24% ultra-Orthodox Jews
, and its growing technological scene make Jerusalem the ideal location to launch the initiative, which is backed by a coalition of partners including major hi-tech companies, NGOs and philanthropic groups and individuals.
Should the program prove successful in Jerusalem, it will likely be rolled out across the nation, especially as demographic trends show that Israel’s nationwide population is estimated to increasingly mirror Jerusalem’s current composition in the coming decades.
President Reuven Rivlin, a Jerusalemite by birth, spoke passionately of his childhood and early life experiences in the city, with the secular, Orthodox, Arabic and Yiddish-speaking communities living and working together years before the establishment of the state.
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“We understood that we are living together as Jerusalemites and there is no way other than to recognize the very fact that we are all here and living together,” said Rivlin, who participated as part of the launch of “Israeli Hope,” his flagship program to encourage greater civility between Jerusalem’s various communities.
“Next year, in Jerusalem’s elementary schools, 50% of first graders will be Arabs and ultra-Orthodox,” said Rivlin. “We have to understand that we are all together, and we have to take care of all of us. If we face the problems, then maybe together we can find solutions to bring Israeli hope to everyone – from Jerusalem to Hurfeish, from Mea She’arim or Rehavia.”
The program will train approximately 240 ultra-Orthodox and Arab participants over a three-year period, offering hands-on technical training, experience in problem solving, exposure to the industry, help in developing soft skills, and assistance in finding relevant placements in tech companies.
Key industry partners including 40Nuggets, ExLibris, Lightricks, Mobileye and Google Israel are participating in the initiative. Mobileye, the primary industry partner, is expected to lead approximately 10 project-based learning initiatives for participants.
“We have assembled a strong partnership to create a game-changing program to integrate haredi women and Arab men and women into the core of Israeli hi-tech,” said Prof. Eugene Kandel, CEO of Start-Up Nation Central.
“It is not simple, but it is doable. We believe in bringing the industry into the coalition and those who understand the communities. The industry knows what kind of people it needs and the skills they should have,” Kandel added.
The hi-tech sector in Jerusalem has been growing in recent years. According to the Jerusalem Development Authority, an increase of 5,000 technological jobs is expected in Jerusalem by 2025.
Jerusalem-based start-up Mobileye is proof of that growth. When it was acquired by Intel for $15.3bn in March 2017, the company employed 680 workers. Today, it employs 1400 workers and is planning to construct a campus in the city that will hold 4,000 employees.
“We have two big sectors – the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors – which both for their own reasons are not integrated into the fabric of the hi-tech economy. In the case of the Arab sector, it is for cultural reasons and in the ultra-Orthodox community it is skills-based,” said Amnon Shashua, president and CEO of Mobileye and senior vice president at Intel Corporation.
“We see this as an opportunity to not only reduce the shortage of talent but also contribute to our economy,” Shashua said.
Itworks, a nonprofit organization promoting employment diversity in hi-tech, is one of four programmatic partners to the project alongside the Elevation Academy, Temech and the Feuerstein Institute.
“It is critical that employers learn to vary and change their recruitment patterns in order to prevent employment shortages, in order to integrate the ultra-Orthodox, single mothers, residents of the periphery, older workers and disabled individuals,” said Ifat Baron-Goldberg, CEO of itworks.
“There is great importance for the market in integrating lower socio-economic populations, especially the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, due to their significant influence in driving the economy. Every wage rise for higher socio-economic groups is primarily invested in luxuries and savings. As opposed to the expenditure of lower socio-economic groups which remains in Israel and which accordingly advances the Israeli economy.”
Both ultra-Orthodox and Arab representatives from project’s ExcellenTeam program, which got underway last week, attended the launch.
Rabia Abuaqel was born in the northern town of Kfar Yassif, a mixed village of Muslims, Christians and Druze. He moved to Jerusalem after being accepted to study computer science at Hadassah Academic College.
“There were three key reasons for joining the ExcellenTeam program,” said Abuaqel. “Firstly, to find a good job to advance my skills. Secondly, to close the gap between what the industry is looking for and what I [learned] at college. Finally, the cultural gap as an individual coming from the Arab minority. I am hoping to bridge the gaps through language skills and soft skills.”
Chanami Tarshish, an ultra-Orthodox woman from Jerusalem, studied computer programming at Jerusalem’s Azrieli College of Engineering after developing a passion for computers and math as a child.
“I feel that the hi-tech world is fast paced, and in order to get ahead of the game you need to continue learning and advance your skills” said Tarshish. “The ExcellenTeam program is a great opportunity for this. The amount of knowledge and scope of learning has been tremendous in the last week.”
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