It was a short grace period for the Jewish Agency's new plan for attracting 1,000 American high-tech professionals to Israel by 2010. Just 30 minutes after its unveiling on Tuesday in Ra'anana, immigration absorption officials and high-tech bosses criticized the blueprint as unviable and misguided.

The plan, which the Jewish Agency presented at the Ra'anana Conference for National High Tech Policy, aims to meet a growing shortage of engineers in the field by tapping into reservoirs of Jewish professionals in the West. According to some statistical estimates, the Israeli economy will face a shortage of about 12,000 high-tech engineers by 2015.

Tzipi Pinkus Hart, who presented the plan, said it will be finalized with cooperation from high-tech firms and launched in January. At that point Jewish Agency emissaries in the U.S., Western Europe and South America will begin focusing on "large concentrations of Jewish high-tech people," explained Pinkus, director of the Agency's community absorption unit.

The emissaries are to showcase the plan to the target group, stressing "a beefed up absorption package for families." But above all, their task is to find jobs in Israel for prospective immigrants while the applicants are still living in their country of origin. A special emphasis will be put on attracting young, single graduates with little practical experience.

"We have set up a system using transatlantic video conferences for job interviews, so that employers can meet the immigrant candidates and decide whether they are suitable," Pinkus said, adding that the program will be the Agency's first coordinated attempt at focusing on the high-tech industry. In addition, the Agency is working with high-tech bodies and representatives to prepare a database of job openings and personnel requirements within the various firms, so as to better direct applicants.

Yehuda Konfortes, editor of technology magazine Information Week and a member of the team drawing up the plan, said the project would "take the issue of employment and transform it from a stumbling block to immigration into a stepping stone for actually going ahead with it."

But after the presentation, the Absorption Ministry's Omri Ingber got up and warned that the personnel shortage does not guarantee success. In his experience, Ingber said, employers in high-tech may resist strong incentives and opt not to hire newcomers. "No database of job opportunities will solve the problem," said Ingber, director of the Center for Absorption in Science. "I personally haven't seen the effects of the personnel shortage you're talking about."

He went on to say that his office recently initiated a pilot program to tap into a target population of hundreds of Jewish bioscience PhDs from the East Coast. Ingber said he contacted bioscience companies all over Israel and offered them a grant worth NIS 450,000 for every immigrant PhD they hire. "No one was interested - not a single company. It's not so easy and there are other factors involved," he said. Ingber stopped short of listing these factors, but a former senior high-tech engineer who asked to go unnamed later told Anglo File that Israeli managers "couldn't trust" engineers in their initial stages of absorption. "Whoever thought up these plans clearly wasn't wearing the project manager's shoes," he said.

"I understand why Ingber's pilot didn't take off and I fully understand why project managers are apprehensive about hiring new immigrants," added the engineer, himself a veteran immigrant who came from Western Europe and headed projects for the Communications Ministry, Elbit and Telrad. "Even if the salary were subsidized, there would still be other aspects to consider. Project managers depend on senior engineers to complete vital projects on time and they are understandably apprehensive about taking on someone who needs to deal with absorption issues while becoming familiar with the project," the engineer explained.

He went on to say that it typically takes two years for an engineer to reach his or her full potential within a major project. "What if they decide to return after 11 months? Then the project might die, with the immigrant engineer leaving the country with insider's knowledge of secret business information."

But Pinkus, the Agency official, told Anglo File that she found that the shortage in workers makes high-tech companies "extremely cooperative." She also said that many in the field were ideologically driven to assist with absorption - which could reduce the dropout rate.

The plan's developers have not consulted Western immigrants who already work in high-tech in Israel, Pinkus said, adding: "We may consult them in the future, when we finalize the plan." Employers, Pinkus said, are willing to "take the risk" of signing contracts with immigrants who have not arrived yet. "[Employers] threw in Hebrew lessons at their expense for new immigrants. They agreed to assign families of veteran engineers to help the families of the new immigrants. We are at a point where we are producing the absorption package together with the high-tech firms."

Absorption as a means of retention is a big part of the plan, according to Pinkus. "In addition to what the high-tech firms will be doing, we will be using our 'mentor' plan to help the high-tech people." The plan, she explained, assigns an Israeli-born or veteran immigrant engineer from the field to the new immigrant high-tech professionals. "The mentor will show the new immigrant the ropes in a way that no instruction manual or book ever could," Pinkus added.