Israel’s tech sector faces challenge from shortage of workers

The sector accounts for about 45 percent of Israel’s exports. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Israel’s tech sector faces challenge from shortage of workers

  • The sector accounts for about 45 percent of Israel’s exports
  • Arabs account for only 3 percent of tech workers but this is expected to change soon as 18 percent of all computer science students today are Arab

TEL AVIV: Israel is struggling to recruit enough workers to its technology sector, a report showed on Sunday, creating a challenge for an industry seen as the country’s main potential driver of economic growth over the next decade.
Start-Up Nation Central, which published the report with the Israel Innovation Authority, said that while the number of high-tech workers in Israel had grown over the past five years, their percentage of the labor force remained unchanged.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the required growth will not be possible if the country’s supply of tech workers is inadequate,” said Eugene Kandel, head of Start-Up Nation Central
“Tech companies are struggling to find tech professionals, with many already finding (them) overseas.”
The number of tech workers — who earn more than double the average wage — grew to 280,000 in 2017 from 240,000 in 2013 but represent only 8 percent of the workforce, down from nearly 10 percent in 2008.
This is surprising given that investment into high-tech has soared, with venture capital funding exceeding $5 billion in 2017 and closing in on $6.5 billion this year. The number of multinationals operating development centers in Israel jumped to nearly 350 in 2016 from around 50 in 2000.
The sector accounts for about 45 percent of Israel’s exports. But about 15,300 positions remain open.
To find workers, Israeli companies are opening development centers overseas, mainly in Ukraine but also in the United States, Russia and India. Several dozen firms have also taken advantage of a rapid process established by the government in 2018 to obtain special visas for foreign tech workers.
But in the long term more initiatives are needed to increase the pool of workers, Kandel told reporters. There is great potential among women, who represent only 23 percent of tech workers, as well the largely untapped Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish sectors.
Arabs account for only 3 percent of tech workers but this is expected to change soon as 18 percent of all computer science students today are Arab, similar to their share of the population.
One obstacle for their employment in high-tech is that they live far from the country’s center.
Aharon Aharon, head of the government’s Innovation Authority, said he would launch two plans in the first quarter of 2019 — one to provide incentives in building an innovation ecosystem in the periphery and another to encourage tech companies to open branches outside of the center.


Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

Updated 23 January 2019
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Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

  • Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border could be followed elsewhere
  • Majid Al Futtaim CEO Alain Bejjani: Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade

DAVOS: Amid global trade wars and the rise of protectionism, Middle East economic and business leaders on Tuesday issued a clarion call for the exact opposite: To ease customs restrictions in the region.
A panel at Davos heard how an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the UAE to boost cooperation — including the reduction of obstacles to trade across the shared border — could be a blueprint for the wider region.
Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border — partly through the use of technology — could be followed elsewhere. “We want to establish a reference for others to follow,” he said.
Alain Bejjani, CEO of retail and leisure group Majid Al Futtaim, said “frictionless trade” would give the region a boost.
“Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of the Davos forum.
Bejjani declined to say whether that would involve a customs union, a common market or a common currency. Given the imposition of trade tariffs between the US and China, and the rise of Brexit, globalization — something espoused by many Davos delegates — is seen as on the wane.
But Bejjani said breaking down barriers in the Middle East could help it better compete with Western Europe and the US.
“For the past almost century now… we’ve been ingeniously working on making sure we put barriers across the Arab world. The reality is we have a market that’s as big as most of the largest markets in the world… if we’re smart enough to work together,” he told the Davos panel.
Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, agreed that Saudi-UAE cooperation was “a great template” for others to follow.
Aside from “opening up” Middle East markets, Al-Rumaihi said harmonizing regulation in the region would also be beneficial to businesses and entrepreneurs.
“If the rules are changing in each country, if they’re not harmonized, it’s very difficult… for an entrepreneur (to understand) the regulatory environment. So they don’t scale very quickly, and that’s something we need to solve,” he said. Talk of freer trade within the Middle East is especially relevant when it comes to the Palestinian territories, which are subject to Israeli occupation and blockade.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said freer movement and a reduction of duties would help the economy grow.
“We need to see our products being waived (of) customs,” he said. “We need mobility — we’re under occupation.”