Israel needs to invest in education for innovation

We need a national plan that will require industrial plants in Israel to upgrade to smart plants.

A general view shows Dead Sea Works factory at the Dead Sea, Israel July 17, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A general view shows Dead Sea Works factory at the Dead Sea, Israel July 17, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
The state and its various organs is currently pouring money into the Israeli economy in order to extricate it from the economic crisis. Some of the budget is transferred to promote innovation, digitization and robotics.
The Israel Small and Medium Enterprises Authority has already announced the allocation of NIS 130 million to businesses for investment in digitization and improved competitiveness.
This is wonderful news for the Israeli economy that is battered and beaten from the destructive economic effect of the novel coronavirus crisis, accompanied by the Ministry of Economy’s announcement of grants to plants that will make the quantum leap to the 4.0 Industry, or known as the fourth industrial revolution as represented by the digitalization and streamlining of manufacturing.
The steps taken by the State of Israel to promote innovation are both correct and smart. Investment in innovation and digitization is very important for the Israeli economy in the medium-term and mainly in the long-term, but that is still not enough.
All this financial investment will come to nothing if the state does not concomitantly consider the need to encourage young people to acquire technological education, while at the same time promoting engineering studies based on a long-term perspective of the needs of the Israeli economy, global technological development and changes in the future labor market.
The digital revolution is neither momentary nor demarcated, and in fact, it is here to stay and will continue to accompany us for years to come. The ability to train the next generation of engineers is an important strategic goal. Innovation does not emerge ex nihilo. Therefore, along with the significant and welcome investment in digitization and innovation, the state must also invest in advancing higher education and in training R&D professionals, otherwise we will not achieve the transition to smart industry for which we all hope.
We need a national plan that will require industrial plants in Israel to upgrade to smart plants. The plan must provide governmental incentives while at the same time establishing clear guidelines for the steps plants must take to increase their efficiency and competitiveness. All this while advancing engineering studies as well as unique study programs for retraining academics for technological professions in demand. These measures will enhance efficiency and lead to increased productivity, economic growth and integration into the global economy.
The COVID-19 crisis underscored the need for quality communication infrastructures, advanced technologies and effective remote customer service, as well as the importance of knowledge-rich industries in the science and medical fields.
Any advanced technology is based on people, flesh and blood, engineers whose goal and purpose is to create a better world for us, more efficient and healthier in all areas of life. Without quality and skilled engineers the Israeli start-up nation is unsustainable.
The coronavirus crisis also heightened the employment problem of young adults, mainly in the periphery. These young people are returning to the employment market at a slow rate. If we do not help them acquire a profession that is in demand, if the state does not act to encourage and train the next generation of engineers, we will find ourselves empty-handed, with industries that have enormous economic potential but lack skilled and quality workers. And even worse: with a ticking social time bomb – young couples on the verge of economic collapse.
The slowdown in Israel’s hi-tech growth, even before the crisis, along with the limited supply of skilled labor in the engineering fields, requires the government of Israel to take swift steps: to increase the level of investment in human resources while expanding investment in R&D in order to find innovative technological solutions, and to allocate budgets for unique study programs that will retrain academics for needed technological professions.
At the same time, the state must also invest resources in integrating technological education into the school curriculum at an early age and among all population groups. Increasing the supply of human resources in the technological professions will enable workers who enter the labor force to obtain quality and productive employment.
The shortage of engineers is the result of insufficient promotion of technological and scientific education in the education system over many years.
It is time to change the equation: to promote innovation and entrepreneurship while incentivizing young people to acquire knowledge and education in engineering fields. This will benefit the local economy and strengthen Israeli society.
The writer is the President of The Sami Shamoon College of Engineering.