Integrating Arabs, Haredim Into Israel's High-Tech Workforce

Letter From Our CEO

Dear Friends,

When Intel bought the Jerusalem-based driverless technology company Mobileye for $15.3 billion last year, it was the biggest acquisition ever of an Israeli high-tech company. The deal was cause for great celebration, cementing Israel’s status as a “start-up nation” par excellence. 

Yet Israeli government officials, policy experts and tech executives are increasingly concerned about two looming problems that could threaten the country’s thriving innovation ecosystem. First, the tech economy is experiencing a growing shortage of qualified workers, especially for highly skilled R&D positions. Second, Israel's changing demographics, and the fragmentation of Israeli society into what President Reuven Rivlin has described as four tribes, have left big gaps in education and participation in the modern economy. Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) are significantly underrepresented in the tech economy and falling further behind socioeconomically. 

And so, last month, I was particularly gratified to witness President Rivlin, flanked by Angelica Berrie on one side and Professor Amnon Shashua, CEO and CTO of Mobileye and a senior vice president at the Intel Corporation, on the other, join with the leadership of Start-Up Nation Central (including board chair Terry Kassel and CEO Professor Eugene Kandel) to announce a new initiative addressing both problems with one elegant, meticulously thought-through solution that I believe holds great promise.

The effort they announced is a totally new approach, supported by The Russell Berrie Foundation and others, for bringing Haredi women and Arabs into the workforce by reverse-engineering a targeted training program for high-potential talent. While traditional job training programs are often not aligned with companies' real-world human capital needs, the breakthrough change here is industry’s lead role in specifying the “end product,” ensuring that participants have the right skills and aptitudes and are, upon graduation, set up for success.

The initial pilot program, the “Excellenteam” boot camp, will train 240 Arab and female Haredi computer science graduates over a three-year period. The kickoff event marked the launch of the first cohort for each group, with training currently underway.

RBF designed the initiative in partnership with Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), a pivotal Israeli organization founded by The Paul E. Singer Foundation that connects Israel’s innovators and high-tech entrepreneurs with global corporations, sovereign entities and large NGOs in need of cutting-edge solutions. The strength of these two institutions enabled the creation of a coalition of best-in-class organizations and industry partners, including the Feuerstein Institute, Mobileye, Lightricks, Ex Libris and 40Nuggets. Working together, these partners will develop the program curriculum (which will include technical training as well as soft skills), assist graduates in placement and support both graduates and their employers as candidates make their way into the workforce.

To read more about this exciting new initiative (in English), please see these articles in The Times of Israel, The Forward and The Jerusalem Post. In the Post’s article, Professor Kandel, a deeply respected economist who served as chairman of Israel's National Economic Council prior to joining SNC, described the program as “game-changing,” saying, “The industry knows what kind of people it needs and the skills they should have.” 

“It is not simple,” Professor Kandel continued, “but it is doable.” 

Thank you for allowing me to share the details of this potentially game-changing, though certainly far from simple, initiative with you. I hope you share my enthusiasm, as well as my belief that our partners, beginning with Start-Up Nation Central, are up for the challenge. 

All the best,

Ruth Salzman

Chief Executive Officer