Israel on Sunday approved the hiring of 500 foreign high-tech workers in a bid to forestall a severe shortage in qualified programmers and internet experts.
The NIS 900 million ($235 million) plan aims to increase the Israeli high-tech sector amid signs of flagging manpower. The program also proposes increasing the number of students in high-tech academic programs by 40 percent in the next six years.
The 500 hi-tech workers outsourced from abroad can only be hired on condition they’re paid at least twice the average wage of Israeli employees.
In addition, the government plans to encourage greater numbers of women, Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews to enter high-tech industries, three groups that are seen as having a low representation in the current technology workforce.
Other initiatives include coding boot camps for young Israelis established to develop interest in programming.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the step sought to solve the challenge of supply and demand.
“The decision is an incentive to the high-tech branch to increase the numbers of engineers and scientists and the number of graduates of relevant university classes,” he said. “I remind you that the biggest problem that we have in the sector is the need to meet the demand, and therefore we need skilled manpower of the highest level.”
One of the main challenges to Israel’s high-tech industry today is finding skilled workers, as fewer students graduate with science degrees, the Finance Ministry said in a February report, warning that the high-tech sector has already ceased to be the nation’s growth engine.
A June report from the Economy Ministry’s Innovation Authority predicted that over the next decade there will be a deficit of some 10,000 jobs among engineers and programmers in Israel.
Karnit Flug, governor of the Bank of Israel, has cautioned that a “marked slowdown in the effective schooling of the entire population is expected in coming years,” and the quality of the education is also relatively low, which does not bode well for the skills of workers joining the labor market in the next few years.
Speaking to The Times of Israel in June 2016, Eugene Kandel, a former head of Israel’s National Economic Council and chief executive officer at Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit organization, urged the government to address the looming high-tech shortages.
In the immediate term the government must identify pools of people it can access quickly — women, Arabs and ultra-Orthodox citizens, who today are at the sidelines of the nation’s high-tech economy and workforce, and train them with new skills, Kandel said.
In the longer term, the government will have to counsel and guide students toward science studies, both at the university level and in high school, he said, as well as create role models to emulate.
“The world is going through a very serious change,” Kandel said at the time. “Whether in China or the US, you have to innovate, because if you don’t someone else will. And then you are the one who is going to be buying their product, instead of them yours.”
Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.