Under the cloud of the Covid pandemic, the local high-tech industry has demonstrated over the past eighteen months that it is the locomotive that pulls the Israeli economy. To turn Israel into an economic superpower, however, this industry needs to grow significantly. The goal that Israel should set is to increase the technology industry's weight in the Israeli labor market from the current 8% to 15%. We can draw inspiration from such successful economies as Singapore; high-tech represents 30% of the labor market there. Israel’s biggest challenge, the high-tech talent scarcity, is no longer an isolated problem but a real crisis that warrants state intervention and an active role in finding and implementing solutions.
The demand for Israeli innovation and high-tech products hit a new record over the past year, inevitably requiring more workers. An Israel Innovation Authority report states, however, that high-tech companies failed to fill 13,000 positions in 2020, with the problem worsening in 2021. Nevertheless, a range of solutions is available for increasing the availability of high-tech employees in both the near and long term.
First and foremost, we should offer free training that covers more than just programming. Last year, Microsoft launched the Global Training Initiative. This initiative, which is available in Israel too, seeks to help 25 million people worldwide to acquire digital capabilities, at no cost, that will help them find employment in the new work market. Tens of thousands of Israelis already participate in this initiative.
Diversify the tech pool
This initiative alone cannot possibly meet the long-term needs. An effective training program must address technological education from a young age across all population groups, particularly the weaker ones. Moreover, it should be implemented jointly by the government and the high-tech companies. Such a program is clearly in the interests of technology companies, since enterprises with greater diversity perform better, leading to higher state taxes and a more robust economy.
Concurrently with investing in technology education from a young age and introducing different population groups to high-tech positions, there is yet another way to grow the technological workforce with immediate results: let us bring back to Israel the high-tech workers who have relocated abroad. To do that, we need a well-drafted program designated as a national mission. We need to name a "bring the brain drain home" czar, as we did with the Covid crisis, set up a dedicated government administration, and design a program with clear criteria for attracting the talents back home. Such a program is better than importing foreign workers, an idea in which many problems hide.
Easing the return home
As someone who went through that very process, returning to Israel after years of studying and working overseas, I am well aware that we need a plan that helps the returning workers with every aspect of their lives. In particular, we need to address the pain points of red tape and the difficulties involved in relocating a family to another country. Examples include registering for and adjusting to new schools, and the security issue. In addition, Israel needs to connect the returning workers with companies and roles that suit them before they travel back to Israel. Given the number of open positions in Israel’s high-tech industry today, this is doable. By bringing back only 10% of the 150,000 Israeli high-tech workers currently living abroad, we will fill the immediate shortage, and take the high road towards greater human resources for the Israeli tech industry, helping the entire country as we do so.
Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk is a Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Israel R&D Center General Manager, and Cloud & AI Security CTO.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 28, 2021.
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