Program seeks to boost Bedouins in Israeli high-tech

Bridgetech will prepare outstanding high school graduates for engineering degrees and jobs in the start-up economy

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

Bridgetech students with Ariel Dloomi at the center (Courtesy)
Bridgetech students with Ariel Dloomi at the center (Courtesy)

Ten male and 10 female students have been selected to take part in a pre-academic program that aims to boost participation of Israel’s Bedouin populations into the country’s high-tech ecosystem.

Backed by Ajeec, a nonprofit organization that aims to close social and economic gaps between Israel’s Arab and Jewish communities, the new program, called Bridgetech, will train outstanding high school graduates in subjects like English, computers, mathematics and spoken Hebrew – to prepare them for a degree in the high-tech field.

Only about 5,000 Bedouin children a year get their high-school diplomas and just a few hundred earn a university degree — and even fewer of those are in engineering studies, Ajeec said in a statement. Many who do attend university leave before getting their degree.

“We have set ourselves the long-term aim of bridging between the Bedouin population and the world of high tech and giving the talented students a successful starting point,” said Ariel Dloomi, co-executive director of Ajeec.”It’s a complicated and difficult task.”

Psychometric exams and language skills are obstacles that these young students need to overcome, along with the distance from high-tech offices and the universities, said Kher Albez, Ajeec co-executive director.

Money is also a problem for many of these students, so not only will the program be free but the students will also get some financing from Israel’s National Insurance Institute, which backs Bridgetech, to encourage them to stick with their studies, Ajeec said.

Bridgetech will follow and support the 20 students, who were selected from a pool of 150 outstanding candidates, all the way from the 12-month pre-academic course through their acceptance to universities or colleges and until they find a job in high tech. During this period they will also work as interns in high-tech companies and volunteer to teach computer studies to younger students and women.

Israeli Arabs make 20 percent of Israel’s population but their contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product is only about 8 percent, according to data provided by the authority for the economic development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian sectors in the Prime Minister’s Office. If the Arab population were better integrated into the workforce, the economy would grow at a faster rate, the authority believes.

Since 2012, the Israeli government has set up a number of programs to help Israeli Arabs integrate into the labor market and the high-tech industry, in an effort to boost economic growth and reduce inequality. Just 5.7% of Israeli Arabs are employed in the high-tech industry and only 2% of those are employed in research and development, according to Israel’s Innovation Authority 2016 report.

Israel’s high-tech industry, which has been a major growth engine for the economy, is facing an acute shortage of skilled workers, something experts say could be resolved by tapping into the Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations, which are still at the sidelines of the high-tech boom.


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