One of the defining challenges in the Israeli economy today centers around the gap between the skills of new graduates and industry's demand for seasoned employees – even for entry-level positions.
Many Israeli students, particularly in engineering as well as other science- and technology-related fields, are unable to secure the desired level of employment and compensation upon graduation.
Moreover, last year, the State Comptroller issued a report which documented 18,500 vacant positions in the Israeli high-tech industry, resulting from a shortage of skilled university graduates with training in computer science.
In this paradoxical situation, the government devotes millions of dollars to recruiting engineers and other high-tech professionals from outside of Israel, even though Israel has a massive pool of students and junior engineers who are available to fill positions.
Meanwhile, there are various short-term training programs that offer practical experience in specific computer programming languages – but they often do not provide the building blocks that three or four-year degree programs offer, instilling within students the crucial background knowledge and understanding of computer science and engineering are necessary for genuine advancement in the field.
With graduates experiencing a shortage of high-quality positions, and industry experiencing a shortage of qualified applicants, where exactly does the rubber meet the road?
To start, it is essential that the government, along with industry, develop long-term partnerships with academia in the quest to strengthen Israel's education-workforce connection.
The Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) has advanced the objective of bridging the aforementioned academia-industry gap through the Cyber Elite program, which provides outstanding Orthodox and Haredi graduates of software engineering and computer science degrees with intensive cyber security training, and simultaneous work in R&D positions in the cyber industry, infusing Israel's high-tech and defense industries with a much-needed new source of highly skilled employees. Most importantly, Cyber Elite functions as a bridge between higher education and industry by empowering students with the practical experience that they need to fill more senior positions upon graduation.
JCT created Cyber Elite during the 2017-18 academic year in partnership with the Cyber Education Center, the National Cyber Directorate of the Prime Minister's Office, the Jerusalem Development Authority and leading cyber companies. By directly involving industry in the partnership, we ensured that this training program would respond to specific industry needs. And indeed, the program's first cohort trained and placed its 31 participants – 15 women and 16 men – in cyber security research and development positions in defense and commercial cyber companies.
Cyber Elite's success was recognized by the Israel Innovation Authority, which affirmed the program's significance by awarding JCT with a grant for two new Cyber Elite cohorts for the academic years of 2021-22 and 2022-23.
The program's more advanced curriculum includes topics like malware analysis, penetration testing, network security, vulnerabilities and exploitations, with training provided by industry experts and former military intelligence personnel. Participants of the current Cyber Elite 2.0 cohort – 19 men and 17 women – spend two days per week on JCT's campuses for men and women. For an additional three days each week, they work in research and development positions at 18 leading cyber security companies and cyber units of multinational companies, including Check Point, Cymotive, Intel, CYE, ARMO, Israel Aerospace Industries/Elta Systems, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and Cellebrite.
Academic degrees, especially in engineering, remain a crucial element in the road towards employment and combine the theoretical with the practical. But students also need hands-on training in advanced programs, like they receive in Cyber Elite, in order to enter and truly succeed in the workforce. Additionally, designing programs for an institution's most outstanding graduates represents the most effective pathway to producing qualified employees that meet the industry's most pressing needs.
By cultivating and maximizing Israel's home-grown talent, the government, academia, and industry can work harmoniously to create systemic change in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox sectors and fill pressing gaps in the Israeli workforce.
Orlee Guttman is director of strategic partnerships, director of the cyber elite program and co-founder of the LevTech Entrepreneurship Center at the Jerusalem College of Technology.
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