Army concerned over brain drain in tech units
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Army concerned over brain drain in tech units

Report shows number of career soldiers leaving the IDF for positions in private sector doubled between 2011 and 2015

Illustrative: IDF soldiers using the "Hunter" [Tsayad] system. The acronym stands for Digitized Land Army. The system allows multi-tier communications across encrypted platforms and has revolutionized the way combat unit receive and process intelligence. (Courtesy IDF)
Illustrative: IDF soldiers using the "Hunter" [Tsayad] system. The acronym stands for Digitized Land Army. The system allows multi-tier communications across encrypted platforms and has revolutionized the way combat unit receive and process intelligence. (Courtesy IDF)

The number of promising young officers leaving army service for work in the civilian sector is on the rise — a trend that has reportedly been troubling the IDF.

A report Wednesday in the Hebrew-language paper Yedioth Ahronoth quoted data from the IDF’s human resources department that reveals that the percentage of young career soldiers in technological roles who decided to leave the army early jumped from 13.2 in 2011 to 34.4 in 2015.

The data refers to officers up to the rank of major, along with non-commissioned officers up to the rank of sergeant first-class.

The so-called “brain drain” has been registered among soldiers serving in technological intelligence units, in the 8200 electronic and communication intelligence unit, in the army’s computer network corps and in Mamram, the IDF’s information systems corps.

The report pointed to a decline in the quality of career officers.

“We are at one of our lowest periods,” Brig. Gen. Michal Ben Muvchar, head of the staff division in the human resources department, told the paper. “These are not regular career soldiers who were discharged. The data refers to career soldiers considered ‘high quality’ whose commanders have asked them to remain in the army.”

Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Levi recently said that Iran and Israel “were in the midst of a technology war – and Iran is closing the gap.”

The Israeli army is disproportionately large compared to the size of the population; for example, it is approximately four times larger than the German army, while the population of Israel is about 10% of Germany’s. Counting reservists, the IDF is the sixth largest military in the world. But the IDF’s edge is often attributed to the ingenuity of its commanders, and its superior intelligence and technology.

The main reason career soldiers are leaving the IDF is salaries and work conditions compared to the private sector. The report cited one Capt. Barak, 24, a developer of information systems. His salary, the report said, is around NIS 8,500 ($2,200), and he is expected to be discharged in two months’ time. Having completed his bachelor’s degree in computer sciences at age 14, he is now working on a master’s in business administration and information systems.

“My wife has been down a similar path to mine, in terms of studies and army service. She was released from a career in the army a year and a half ago and makes three times as much as I make,” Barak told the paper. “She is the breadwinner in the house and she finishes every day at 5 p.m., with no weekends, no night shifts and no emergency calls. We were 50 technological officers when we finished the course; today only two remain in a career in the army.”

Polls cited by Yedioth found that the trend will continue, as the 8200 unit is set to relocate from a base north of Tel Aviv to the south of the country.

Among the solutions being weighed for the problem, one option – which the paper said has received the blessing of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon – is to entice officers to remain in service by offering them individual contracts with fat paychecks that can compete with what the bullish Israeli startup industry can offer. Currently, salaries in the army are determined by rank rather than profession.

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