Southern technology sensation: Hi-tech sector expanding throughout Negev

It turns out that many young people who finish degrees at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev don’t stay in the area, but instead prefer to look for work in central Israel.

GAV-YAM Negev Advanced Technologies Park in Beersheba. (photo credit: Courtesy)
GAV-YAM Negev Advanced Technologies Park in Beersheba.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘For every prospective employee, we have six positions available,” says Avi Shaked, the owner and CEO of Shiryonit Hosem, a door manufacturer. “We’re looking to hire engineers, welders and production-line workers who can operate digital machinery. We’re in dire need of finding people – there just aren’t any available.”
According to data from the Israel Manufacturers Association, Southern District, which Shaked heads, there are currently 2,000 available positions in the Negev. A number of large industrial plants have relocated to southern Israel, a huge hi-tech park in Beersheba has become a central player, and IDF bases are being planned in the Negev. So, where are all the potential employees?
It turns out that many young people who finish degrees at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev don’t stay in the area, but instead prefer to look for work in central Israel.
“I would love to have stayed in Beersheba,” says Meitar Ronen, who recently completed her master’s degree at BGU and found a job in hi-tech in central Israel. “But all of my friends left. And they left because all of their friends left – it’s a domino effect. The best part about studying in Beersheba was I had so many great friends there. But without any friends, there’s not much incentive for me to stay.”
“At my age – before getting married and having kids – hanging out with friends is pretty important,” adds Ronen. “Going out in Tel Aviv is much more fun. Also, it’s really important for people’s image to work in well-known companies like Apple, Google, or Microsoft – and these companies are all based in central Israel.”
“I see all the changes that are taking place here in an effort to create more employment opportunities for young people, but central Israel still offers more opportunities,” says Inbar Bak, a student of government and communications who works in a public relations firm in Beersheba. “I moved here from Herzliya three years ago and I immediately fell in love with the people, who are so warm, and the city, which is constantly developing. I’m finishing my degree this year and I hope to find work here that’s appropriate for me. Otherwise, I’ll make my way back to central Israel. Many of my friends say they went back to Tel Aviv because the salaries are so much higher.”
Eretz-Ir, an Israeli nonprofit dedicated to raising the communal quality of life in Israel’s peripheral cities, recently held a human resource conference in cooperation with the Israel Manufacturers Association, Southern District. The goal was to help participants find employment solutions and entice young Israelis to live and work in the Negev.
The Human Resource Conference was enabled thanks to JNF USA and is a partnership between the Israel Manufacturers Association and Eretz-Ir through the Lauder Center for Employment, the JNF and leading employment organizations in southern Israel.
According to a survey conducted by Eretz-Ir, young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who live in the Negev tend to switch jobs often, and are extremely focused on high salaries and an impressive benefit package, as well as job satisfaction and a nice social atmosphere. Nonetheless, very few young people are interested in job vacancies in southern Israel. In past generations, a large percentage of southern residents worked in factories near their hometown, but this is not true of the young Generation Z.
“It’s not only the current Generation Z, but also the previous Generation Y were no longer interested in working in factories,” admits Aviv Hatzbani, director of the Israel Manufacturers Association, Southern District. Although most of the jobs are on the production floor, these are excellent positions and the salary is 1.5 times that of the average factory salary, and the work environment is quite pleasant.
“We understand that having a huge salary is not the most important thing for them, and that they’re also searching for self-fulfillment,” Hatzbani says. “This is our biggest challenge. The biggest challenge for the young people is to deal with the incompatibility of the material they studied at university with what they actually need to know to thrive in the working world. To deal with this, I think it’s important to rebrand the jobs that are being offered, because as it stands, they don’t look enticing enough to job searchers.”
The younger generation is entering the job market in Israel in an era in which unemployment is at an unprecedented low and the economy is stronger than ever. We need to take all this into consideration when trying to figure out what motivates them.
“Generation Z are much more focused on themselves and on whether they are maximizing their capabilities,” says psychiatrist and neuroscientist Prof. Yoram Yuval. “Their sense of awareness regarding long-term plans and commitment to a specific place of work are very different from their parents’ generation.”
Young people are obsessed with a fear of missing out and are always searching for new thrills.
“They are constantly wondering if they wouldn’t have been better off somewhere else at that very moment,” says Yuval. “That’s why workplaces need to offer great conditions and be cool, innovative and have a wow effect. Employers need to understand that young employees feel very little loyalty to their place of work, and they need to work hard to acquire their trust and also offer them great incentives to continue working there. But how close a relationship employees have with coworkers and their boss are also heavily influential factors.
“These days, people love to be involved with social and environmental issues through their workplace,” continues Yuval. “And so workplaces should invest in these types of activities and encourage their employees to contribute time and money to the community. It’s a win-win situation – we make Israel a better place to live in while at the same time also keep our employees satisfied.”
Paula Seton, a senior organizational consultant and expert on Generation Z and Y employees in large organizations agrees with Yuval.
“Generation Z are looking for a place of work that is meaningful and has an agenda. Big organizations need to meet these needs if they want to attract employees this age,” says Seton. “For example, some managers announced that employees were allowed to take time off to join the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] surrogate protest and many organizations changed their Facebook profile picture to express support for the LGBT community.”
According to a manager at EMC, “If you look at the numbers of young employees EMC hired, you’ll see this gimmick was pretty successful. It created quite a buzz among veteran employees, too, and increased their feelings of pride in working for the company.”
“We’re working to promote urban community activity,” says Bella Alexandrov, CEO of Eretz-Ir and the conference organizer. “When people get involved, they feel much more connected with their community. Providing them with a job is not enough to convince a young person to stay in the south. We need to make them feel like Beersheba is a cool, fun and great place to live. Employment is an important factor, but so are education, housing and leisure activities.”
“My daughter recently moved to Tel Aviv and rented an apartment above a bar,” says Shaked. “Beersheba just can’t compete. We need to invest in the city if we want young people to stay here. The mayor needs to offer direct transportation late at night on the weekends so young people can easily and cheaply travel back home from central Israel. This would make a huge difference.”
One such program that was started by of Eretz-Ir offers companies incentives and subsidies if they hire young people. “We discovered that there are 30 different employment agencies, each of which focuses on different population sectors,” says Alexandrov. “We created a network of human resource managers who work together to find solutions and teach each other how to integrate young people into industries. We offer special incentives for small businesses and factories that hire employees between the ages 18 to 25. Employers in the Negev are working hard to implement these changes.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.