After years of complaints of age discrimination in Israeli technology — workers being shown the door when they get to age 40 or so and finding it hard to get a new job — Israel’s government is turning the job picture on its head, actively seeking older workers for high-tech positions.
The reason — Israel is facing a major shortage of tech workers. So the government is turning to engineers and programmers 45 and over to fill the gap. Under a new program, the Economics Ministry will provide free retraining for older workers, teaching them the latest technologies that will allow them to step into the high-paying jobs that are going begging now.
“Every day we witness the effects of the lack of professional manpower on the Israeli economy in general, and on its high-tech industry in particular,” said Amit Lang, director-general of the Ministry of Economy. “The difficulty experienced by the technology companies in finding expert employees in science, engineering, and computers has a direct effect on the economy’s ability to export goods and services in the technological industries. Therefore, we attribute great importance to strengthening the professional and academic training in fields which enable their graduates to acquire a profession for life, while also providing solutions to the needs of industry and the economy.”
Part of the problem is that fewer students are taking math and science courses in high schools and universities these days. According to Education Ministry numbers, fewer than 10% of Israeli high school students take advanced courses in math and science — while the number of tech jobs expands annually. According to Lang, some 7,000 new positions in the high-tech industry open up annually, but no more than 6,600 graduates are available to fill those jobs. As this has been going on for at least the past five years, a serious gap between the number of available workers and the number of jobs has become significant. “While the demand rises, the number of students for the subjects in demand has stagnated,” Lang said.
“Israeli innovation is an inseparable part of our national strength. Israel’s economic strength and image depends, among other things, on it being a groundbreaking innovative power, providing mankind with technological solutions for cyberspace, security, defense, agriculture, water, energy, medicine, safety, and others,” said Economics Minister Naftali Bennett. “However, Israeli high-tech suffers from a flaw, and that flaw is extremely significant — the shortage of skilled manpower required for technological professions,” he said.
“The great potential for employment and growth is not realized because companies have problems in finding high-quality, skilled employees,” Bennett added. “Not enough young people are studying mathematics and the sciences; there are not enough Arab and ultra-Orthodox (Jewish) graduates in technological fields, which is a shame. High-tech knows how to employ everyone, and needs more and more talented employees.”
To fill the gap, the Ministry is working not only on retraining older workers, but also providing incentives to companies to hire workers from the “underemployed” groups in tech, including Arabs and members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. In addition, the ministry will seek out Israelis who are working abroad and incentivize them to come home. In a pinch, the ministry is even willing to consider foreign workers, granting special visas to tech workers who match set criteria.
In the longer term, the ministry will work with a laundry list of government offices to recruit more students, providing money, incentives, and assistance to encourage more people to take the courses they need to work in high tech. Among those offices: the Office of the Director of Employment in the Ministry of Economy, the Office of the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Economy, the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Budget Department in the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, the Planning and Budgeting Committee at the Council for Higher Education in Israel, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, the fund and unit for Guidance for Ex-Servicemen in the Ministry of Defense, the IDF, the Israeli Employment Service, the National Cyber Bureau, and various representatives in the fields of industry, employment, and development of human resources.