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Program arms discharged fighters with cyberskills, wins IDF Chief of Staff award

Six-month bootcamp, developed at the start of COVID-19 crisis, helps ex-combat soldiers learn developer skills for junior positions in cybersecurity industry

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative: Male and female combat soldiers of the Caracal Battalion train to fight an Islamic State assault on southern Israel in late March 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Male and female combat soldiers of the Caracal Battalion train to fight an Islamic State assault on southern Israel in late March 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

A program designed to teach newly discharged combat soldiers cybersecurity skills and help them find jobs as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy has won an innovation award by the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The six-month bootcamp, called Cyber4s, was developed by Scale-Up Velocity, a nonprofit organization that partners with tech firms and academic and training institutions to set up initiatives to help Israel’s tech industry tap into talented human capital.

The IDF and the Israel National Cyber Directorate, responsible for cybersecurity defense in the civilian sphere, are also behind the bootcamp.

Cyber4s was developed at the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis to help highly talented discharged combat soldiers who served in non-technological positions in the army to gain the skills needed for entry-level, junior positions in the cybersecurity industry.

Former combat IDF soldiers at the ceremony for the start of the Cyber4s bootcamp (Atid Mavtiach, Technology and Maintenance Corps, IDF)

Cybersecurity firms have been facing a shortage of skilled workers that has grown even more acute during the pandemic as remote work and studies have increased the vulnerability to cybersecurity attacks, said Maty Zwaig, the CEO of Scale-Up Velocity, in an interview.

The program also meets the soldiers’ demand for jobs. These highly motivated soldiers, many of whom chose combat units over intelligence units, were discharged at the time of the pandemic, and found themselves facing bleak prospects, she said. They missed the deadline for starting the academic year, can’t find jobs because of the high unemployment levels caused by the pandemic and are grounded at home, along with the flights, and are thus unable to undertake their traditional post-army trip to foreign lands.

The training program was developed in collaboration with tech officials from cybersecurity companies, Zwaig said, based on an analysis of industry needs.

The first cohort of students opened in July, and included 40 participants selected from hundreds of applicants.

For six months, until December, the program participants will be trained in online and also some frontal classes as full-stack cyber developers, working with mentors from the industry on research and development projects with partner companies. They will also be taught soft skills, such as how to prepare for and handle a job interview, how to write resumes, presentation skills, problem solving, negotiation and teamwork.

Maty Zwaig, the CEO of Scale-Up Velocity, set up by Start-Up Nation Central (Courtesy)

“The partnership with the IDF and the Israel National Cyber Directorate created a national opportunity to tap into the tremendous potential of discharged soldiers, who did not serve in technology units, and provide them with a platform to enter the high-tech industry,” said Zwaig.

Hopefully, the skills learned will help these students move on from junior jobs to more highly skilled, core cybersecurity positions, for which academic and longer-term studies are required, Zwaig said.

Lt. Col Osnat Levi, head of IDF Profession for Life Directorate, and her team selected the participants out of the hundreds of applicants, while Ruth Shoham, executive director of Strategy and Partnerships in the Israel National Cyber Directorate, and her team helped set out the curriculum. The program will continue with additional student cohorts, after the end of the first one, Zwaig said.

The Chief of Staff Innovation Award — given out for the first time — was granted as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Week, which takes place each November around the world with thousands of events, activities and competitions in some 180 countries.

Cyber4s was selected as a winner in the people skills category. Additional programs that aim to increase the effectiveness of the IDF in a variety of fields were also granted the award, the statement said.

The winners were selected by a committee of the Chief of General Staff, headed by Brigadier General Eran Niv, head of the Innovation and Combat Methods Division, high-ranking officers with knowledge and extensive experience in innovation, general manager of Facebook Israel Adi Soffer Teeni, Prof. Dafna Schwartz, and Microsoft’s national technology officer Tomer Simon.

Scale-Up Velocity was set up by Start-Up Nation Central, an independent nonprofit that seeks to strengthen Israel’s innovation ecosystem and connect it to global companies and institutions.

Scale-Up Velocity partners with high-tech companies, academic and training institutions, government agencies, nonprofits and philanthropies to build programs and models that increase and improve the supply of talent to Israel’s tech sector. Scale-Up’s initiatives range from practical, hands-on coding bootcamps geared to recruiting talent from untapped communities, to drafting policy recommendations for government agencies and senior decision makers looking to tackle the shortage of human capital within Israel’s tech sector.

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