Israel’s new government has set a target of increasing the number of workers in the hi-tech sector to 15% of the total workforce. That would be about 50% more than currently work in hi-tech, and economists are divided over whether such a goal is feasible within the next five years.
Most agree, however, that with long-term planning and an education program that starts in elementary and high school, dramatic demographic changes can be created.
Among the programs leading the way in this regard is Machshava Tova, a non-profit dedicated to using technology to reduce social gaps and create a better society in Israel. The organization has several programs designed to give teens in Israel’s less-affluent communities the opportunity to learn coding and other essential technology skills.
Among these programs is Eco-tech, an annual program connecting young people to educational and employment opportunities by teaching professional-level skills in important growth sectors, as well as improving entrepreneurial and inter-personal skills crucial for future employment.
The program has three components: professional technology training, business/social entrepreneurship, and a practical internship during the summer vacation. Eco-tech ends with a national competition, judged by educators and high-tech professionals, with a special prize for winners.
Eco-tech “taught me that if I want to, I can,” said David Dessa, an 18-year old Machshava Tova graduate and winner of the competition. Dessa, currently a student in the technological reserve unit at Kinneret Technological College, will be assigned to a technology position in the Israeli Air Force when he graduates. Through the program, “I found the faith and courage to tell people to look at my actions and to not judge me by the way I look,” he said.
The program, established by venture capital investor Michael Eisenberg, is designed for high school students in periphery towns like Lod and Sderot, providing opportunities for youth who are not necessarily given access to technology from an early age.
The program is still relatively new, but graduates of its first class include people like Avraham, an Ethiopian boy from Lod who now serves in a significant role in the technology unit working on Iron Dome in the Air Force, due to his hard work afternoons and evenings after school for two years.
MACHSHAVA TOVA CEO Ornit Ben-Yashar believes it is programs like these that can help prepare Israeli society for a future with greater equality and opportunity for everyone.
“Regarding Prime Minister Bennett’s plan for 15% to be a part of the hi-tech industry, a plan needs to operate on two levels: in the short-term and long-term,” she said.
“In the immediate situation, we have all seen throughout the coronavirus crisis that there are significant gaps in societies’ access to technology, and we need to accelerate processes in order to bring it to more and more populations that are not currently represented in hi-tech – including the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs and those in periphery towns,” Ben-Yashar said.
“But for there to be a significant, long-term increase in the percentage of those entering hi-tech, Israel’s economic locomotive, we need to invest in education,” she said. “We must take an active role in presenting the world of technology from a young age to those who are not exposed.
“Machshava Tova helps make technology accessible from an early age, and introduces boys and girls in the periphery to programming languages, digital innovation, tools for independent learning and more, in order to give them an equal opportunity to choose to be part of the Start-Up Nation.”
During the early months of the pandemic, the organization also took a strong role in providing technology training for older residents who were having trouble adapting to new realities, as well as arranging for used computers to be donated and distributed to families that needed them. It also trained youth to learn how to service and upgrade those computers, providing life-long skills in the process, Ben-Yashar said.