Starved tech sector to be fed by programmer boot camps

A new NIS 10m program aims to fast-track software programmers’ training to ease the acute shortage in Israel’s tech industry

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

Macbook (photo credit: Sophie Gordon/Flash90)
Macbook (photo credit: Sophie Gordon/Flash90)

The Israel Innovation Authority is kicking off a new NIS 10 million ($2.8 million) “coding boot camp” program meant to provide six to 12 months of intensive training for college graduates in the sciences who are interested in a computer programming career.

The program comes as Israel faces an acute shortage of quality engineers and computer programmers. As of April 2017, market demand for programmers exceeded those available by 2.5 times, the Innovation Authority said. The shortfall of manpower could hamper the growth of a sector that has powered Israel’s economy for more than a decade, industry heads, analysts and government officials have warned.

The Innovation Authority, formerly known as the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy and Industry, is responsible for the country’s innovation policy and for boosting the nation’s tech ecosystem.

Israel’s “hi-tech industry is hungry for quality personnel — this is the main challenge for an industry which is Israel’s most significant economic growth engine,” said Aharon Aharon, the CEO of the authority, in a statement. “This program is one of the key tools that will provide a short-term solution.”

Aharon Aharon, CEO of Israel Innovation Authority speaking at conference in Tel Aviv (Courtesy: Ofer Vaknin)
Aharon Aharon, CEO of Israel Innovation Authority speaking at conference in Tel Aviv (Courtesy: Ofer Vaknin)

As of May 2017, there were 7,127 job openings in the Israeli high-tech sector, mainly for engineers and programmers, the authority said.

Last summer, Israel’s former chief scientist at the Ministry of Economy and Industry, Avi Hasson, warned of a shortfall of more than 10,000 engineers and programmers in the coming decade if the government doesn’t take immediate action. This is mainly because students shy away from studying computer science, math and statistics.

The new boot camp program was developed by the authority’s Societal Challenges Division. The goal is to create an alternative route to joining the high-tech workforce, focused on market needs, in a maximum 12-month training track. The program also includes a full-time practical internship.

Coding boot camps are a new global trend. In 2016 in the US, 70 percent of a similar program’s graduates went on to work in the high-tech sector, data provided by the authority showed. The courses outside of Israel cost $15,000 to $30,000 and employers recognize their value: A 2017 survey of 1,000 high-tech employers in the US found that 84% believed that graduates of coding boot camps were as good as or better than graduates with university Computer Science degrees. Eighty percent of the boot camp graduates were happy with the training they received, the data showed.

The Israeli boot camp model was developed as a cooperative effort between government ministries and agencies and members of the high-tech industry.

Grants & subsidies

The goal is to prepare 250 ready-to-work employees at the end of the first year, and 450 new employees by the end of the third year, with stipends from students to encourage registration from diverse populations. The authority plans to call for submissions from training agencies in autumn.

The model includes a competitive grant program under which computer programming training agencies will be rewarded according to the number of graduates they produce who get well-paying jobs in high-tech development.

“Most training frameworks for programmers and engineers include long-term and intensive studies,” said Naomi Krieger Carmy, head of the Societal Challenges Division at the Israel Innovation Authority. “This new coding boot camp represents a commitment not unlike that of academic studies — except in much less time. This is an opportunity for graduates of the sciences to significantly upgrade their salaries in a short period of time, whether they‘ve never worked in high-tech or are not earning as much as they could in other professions. For the industry, this is a real boon — high quality personnel available in the foreseeable future.”

The Innovation Authority will make sure that that the end result – placement of high-quality personnel – is satisfactory, said Krieger Carmy. And the quality of the training will be supervised by industry experts.

The boot camp initiative was set up with the collaboration of the Ministry of Economy and Industry , the Israel Innovation Authority, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, the Ministry of Finance, the National Economic Council, the Israel Advanced Technology Industries (IATI) and senior executives from the business sector.

The program is part of a number of steps the government is taking to meet the challenge of this worker pinch. These include increasing the number of relevant classes at the universities, with bigger budgets going to these institutions; pushing more high school students to take higher levels of math and sciences; and coming up with plans to tap into the underutilized pool of Arab and ultra-Orthodox workers. In addition, the government is making it easier for highly skilled foreign workers to get visa permits and is planning to attract a greater number of new immigrants relevant to high tech to Israel.

This new program is “an important step towards increasing the number of participants in the advanced technology industries,” said Aharon, of the Innovation Authority. It encourages the creation “of additional pathways outside of academic studies towards entering the world of hi-tech.”

Computer programming studies are an important engine for social mobility, enabling people from any background to enjoy a high salary in an innovative and challenging environment, he said.

“For the first time we are operating a results-based model that will offer real incentives to integrate the graduates of these training programs in hi-tech companies,” Aharon said. “The innovation here is the ability of the government and its agencies to examine the market’s needs and to use available tools to direct people towards high-demand professions with high wages. This model provides a solution for two issues: it is an answer for a lack of skilled personnel and also steers people towards occupations which will improve their socio-economic standing.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed