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Ultra-Orthodox, Arab Workers Fill Israeli Tech Shortage
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women work on computers at the Comax software company office near Tel Aviv in 2016. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Ultra-Orthodox, Arab Workers Fill Israeli Tech Shortage

Government & organizations push for better integration of under-represented populations as industry faces growing shortfall

Israel is turning increasingly towards its ultra-Orthodox community and Arab sector to address a shortage of workers in the country’s booming high-tech industry. The “Start-Up Nation,” as it is also known, is struggling to fill crucial roles like software engineers, with recent estimates that it lacks up to 15,000 workers.

More than 6,000 high-tech companies and start-ups are currently active in Israel, with the latter raising some $5.24 billion in 2017. The reasons for the lack of workers are varied but, according to analysts, not unique to Israel.

“Like everywhere else in the world, there is a shortage of developers in Israel’s high-tech industry,” Ayala Miller, Head of High Tech Human Capital Development at the Israel Innovation Authority – the government’s tech investment arm – told The Media Line.

The Innovation Authority, which is responsible for allocating government funds to start-ups as well as formulating technology policies, has started to encourage ultra-Orthodox entrepreneurs by increasing their eligibility for grants.

“Our tech industry is growing quickly all the time, so we need more and more people,” Miller affirmed, emphasizing that the shortage is a sign that the sector is rapidly expanding. “The number of people working in this field in Israel has grown from 240,000 in 2013 to 280,000 in 2017.

“Because of this, we are working to find new ways to bring more people into this industry,” she continued. “How can we bridge the gap? With under-represented populations within Israel, including the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs and women – these are the areas with high potential for the hi-tech industry.”

Some non-governmental organizations have also started to address the issue, like Start-Up Nation Central, a non-profit entity that connects tech companies with international investors. In collaboration with a number of groups, philanthropists, companies, and officials, Start-Up Nation Central recently launched the “Program for Enhancement of Arab and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Human Capital for the Jerusalem High-Tech Workforce.” The initiative aims to provide training, networking and placement opportunities for participants.

Shany Kfir, Human Capital Program Manager at Start-Up Nation Central, said there are currently 22 ultra-Orthodox women and 20 Arabs participating in separate classes in the “Excellenteam” pilot program, as it has been dubbed.

“Most of the participants are computer science or software engineering graduates and we’re providing them with the tools and skills needed for them to bridge the gap, and integrate into the industry,” Kfir explained to The Media Line. “It’s a blend of face-to-face lessons and [independent] learning, with lots of hands-on experience.

“We’re getting very positive feedback so far,” he added, noting that many of those enrolled in the program have reported a significant growth in their knowledge base. “They’re really being challenged every day with different tasks and different projects that they need to learn from scratch and deliver.”

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