Israel earmarks NIS 21.6 million to boost Arab employment in high-tech

Programs funded by the Israel Innovation Authority and the Economy and Industry Ministry seeks to train and help find jobs for 2,239 Israeli Arabs in the local tech industry

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Arab students working on a project at Moona, a nonprofit technology incubator in the Galilee that aims to build bridges between Israeli Jews and Arab youth through space technologies (Courtesy)
Arab students working on a project at Moona, a nonprofit technology incubator in the Galilee that aims to build bridges between Israeli Jews and Arab youth through space technologies (Courtesy)

Israel will fund a NIS 21.6 million ($6.1 million) program to train and integrate more than 2,000 Arab Israeli women and men into the local high-tech industry over the next two years as part of a continued effort to narrow the employment and income gaps between Jewish and Arab Israelis.

The Israel Innovation Authority (IAA) together with the labor division of the Economy and Industry Ministry selected 12 programs for the training and placement of 2,239 people from the Arab population. The 12 selected programs will receive an aggregate government grant of NIS 12 million and the remainder is to be financed by private funds.

Participation rates of the Arab population in the tech employment market remains low despite numerous government initiatives.

Long touted as the growth engine of the Israeli economy, the tech sector accounts for around 25% of the country’s total income tax revenue and constitutes about 10% of the workforce. Arab Israelis make up some 20% of the population but just 2% of Arab men and 1% of Arab women working in the tech industry, according to government data. That compares with 12% of secular Jewish men and 8% of secular Jewish women.

At the same time, the tech industry is facing an acute shortage of skilled engineers and programmers. This scarcity could cause the engine to stall, and the country is seeking to tap into new populations sectors to keep it going.

Low-income populations have largely been left on the sidelines of the nation’s high-tech boom, including the ultra-Orthodox, Arab Israelis, and women, resulting in large income gaps. The ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations, among the poorest in Israel today, are expected to constitute half of the population by 2065, according to the OECD.

“This reflects a lack of the skills needed for them to get high-productivity and well-paid jobs,” according to the OECD report. “Integrating the Arab-Israeli and Haredim into the labour market remains one of the key challenges for the Israeli economy.”

This year, over 10,000 workers from the Arab population were employed in the tech industry, but half of them were in non-technological positions, according to Tair Ifergan, director general of the labor division at the Economy and Industry Ministry.

“Although the percentage of Arab citizens employed in the tech industry is still below the national average, in recent years, we have seen an increasingly positive trend of integration of the Arab population and a significant increase in the number of Arab students studying tech-related subjects in academia,” said IIA CEO Dror Bin. “We aim to increase the number of Arab citizens employed in tech and create a significant economic, social and regional change as part of the strengthening and diversification of the Israeli tech sector.”

“Rapid and proper integration of graduates of these programs will be one of the significant steps toward reducing the shortage of tech personnel in the long term,” Bin noted.

More than half of the selected programs in the project will train for advanced development positions in the tech sector, such as programming, and include theoretical and practical on-the-job training. Soft skills will also be part of the training to expand the candidates’ skill set and boost their chances of getting a high-quality job in tech.

One of the funded programs will provide training and help in the job placement in the following four tech areas: robotics and automation, verification, DevOps and data analytics. Another program focuses on career development and promotion to managerial positions for tech workers in Arab society.

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