Why are there no Arabs in high-tech?
Only some 5,600 Arabs work in Israel's high-tech sector, out of 197,000 employees in this field, constituting a mere 2.8 percent of the total, despite the fact that Arabs comprise 20 percent of the population, according to an estimate prepared by Yasser Awad, a doctoral student in actuarial science at the University of Haifa and the manager of a project on vocational equality at Sikkuy The Association for the Advancement of Civil Equality in Israel.
Awad said that from 2001 to 2005, over 1,000 Arab graduates completed degrees in the exact sciences and engineering, but only 300 of them were hired.
"In addition, there are about 3,000 or 4,000 Arab high-tech people who failed to find work in the field even before that," Awad said. "Most either set up stores for computer equipment or went into teaching."
Awad was one of the speakers at "Arabs in Israel's High-Tech Industry," a conference held yesterday in Tel Aviv that was organized by the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development.
One of the panels at the conference included high-tech entrepreneur Orni Patrushka; Nabeel Sakran, a senior engineer at Intel Haifa; Oracle Israel CEO Moshe Horev; Matrix CEO Moti Gutman; Adi Bildner, vice president for human resources at HP Israel; Itzik Benvenisti former manager of HP's personal computing division; and the dean of the Technion's School of Computer Engineering, Professor Oded Shmueli.
Sakran said that five percent of Intel Israel employees are Arab. Patrushka said that he has never received a resume from an Arab job-seeker. Horev noted that no Arabs are presently employed by Oracle Israel, and Gutman said that a few dozen Arabs are currently working for Matrix. Bildner admitted that the percentage of Arab employees at HP Israel is low.
Panelists contended that one of the main problems is that Arab candidates do not apply for high-tech positions in Israel. This was refuted by some audience members, who said that they were computer science graduates who had applied to dozens of Israeli companies without receiving a response.
The members of the panel agreed that new solutions to increase the number of Arabs participating in Israel's high-tech sector should be pursued. Bildner noted that HP has placed help-wanted ads in Arabic newspapers, with few results. He said that senior management in every company must work to promote diversity in its work force. Gutman added that companies should not wait for government support on the issue and suggested that they seek out projects in which Arab university graduates would have a relative advantage, such as writing software in Arabic or adapting programs for the Arab market.
Patrushka and Shmueli said that in light of the threat to Israel's high-tech industry posed by China and India, new ways must be found to exploit Israel's underutilized human potential.
"Israel's uniqueness lies in its entrepreneurial spirit," Patrushka said. "I became an entrepreneur because I was able to. Being an entrepreneur requires a sense of independence, of freedom, a certain amount of daring. It's hard to see how someone without these could break through boundaries, and that's the main problem faced by Israel's various minorities."