Education 'overhaul' vital to expanding hi-tech exports

IAESI chairman: "Without better education, we won't be able to achieve further growth, as the talent just won't be there."

University 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
University 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel will not be able to maintain its status as a world hi-tech leader if the country's educational system is not overhauled, according to Elisha Yanai, outgoing chairman of the Israel Association of Electronics and Software Industries. "I really believe that education, the entire spectrum of education in this country, needs to be refurbished, and I don't see any other option to fixing it other than the government seriously investing in doing it," he said at the association's annual conference Thursday in Tel Aviv. "Without better education, we won't be able to achieve further growth, as the talent just won't be there." Looking back at his four years as chairman of the IAESI, Yanai, who also is the chairman of Motorola Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that while he did make inroads in strengthening the ties between academia and industry, much more needs to be done. Over the last few year, the IAESI has focused on expanding its technological education activities, through which it operates courses and assists Israel's university and colleges in increasing their capacity for training electrical engineers. More than 8,000 engineers and software specialists graduate each year. "I have worked on it, but there are so many problems," he said. "We just finished a strike in the high schools, but there is still a strike of the university professors. I worked hard to create new initiatives, but maybe I did not push hard enough, and I think that the new chairman should concentrate more on that." In his final address as chairman of the IAESI, Yanai highlighted a number of points that need to be achieved to advance Israel's hi-tech market. "The association is really going to need to work more with the government, in terms of improving technical education, teaching innovation, on strengthening partnerships with academic institutions, while the government must invest heavily in not only education, but in small companies as well," he said. The IAESI is a nonprofit independent association established in 1972 to promote and develop the local electronics industry. It is comprised of about 300 companies in the fields of electronics, telecommunications, semiconductors, medical devices, defense and security systems, information technology and software. Association members include private companies, government-owned companies and subsidiaries of foreign companies. According to the association, it strives to maintain the competitive advantage of Israel's advanced technology industries in the face of increasing competition from India and China, as well as traditional rivals in Europe and North America. The association wants to double Israel's hi-tech exports over the next number of years, Yanai said. To attain that goal, he said, the association undertook a $150,000 survey detailing a plan how to double productivity in the electronics and software sectors. Yanai said he was not worried that the "brain-drain" would have a detrimental effect on the local electronics industry. "Israel, for better or worse, is a 'mid-cost' country when it comes to the electronics market," he said at at a meeting of the World Electronics Forum in November. "Asia, by far the biggest electronics manufacturer in the world, is a 'low-cost' market, and Israelis are not jumping to leave the country for lower salaries in China and Japan." But according to the Manufacturers Association of Israel, the country has lost more than 25,000 hi-tech workers to electronics and software companies in the US over the past seven years as the government has continued to cut the budget for research and development programs.