Getting the Most Bang for Your Educational Buck

Engineering, computer sciences offer highest starting pay for the shortest period of training, but the army is a good shortcut.

Engineer, architect, psychologist, or lawyer: Which course of studies offers the highest beginning pay in Israel for the shortest period of studies and training? Not surprisingly, engineering and computer sciences top the list.

A computer science degree, for example, takes three or four years and graduates can land jobs such as software testing and programming in high-tech at a handsome gross salary of NIS 11,000 to NIS 17,000 a month. In contrast, those who choose clinical psychology and start working in the public sector after nine years of training (five years for a master's degree plus four years of practical training) will earn NIS 4,500 to NIS 5,000 in their first job. (All salary estimates come from the Nisha and Manpower employment agencies.)

Most jobs for college and university graduates – and certainly at the outset – offer low pay that usually doesn't even approach salaries in the high-tech field. Even law graduates who complete three and a half years of studies and a year's internship or accountants with four years of higher education plus two years' internship have to make do with less than NIS 10,000 a month in the first job.

One of the toughest courses of study and least financially worthwhile considering the years spent learning is architecture. Following five years of study, three years of internship are required to obtain a license. Graduates can then earn around NIS 10,000 a month.

Medicine also requires long and exhausting training, including seven years as a student including internship followed by four to six years of specialization involving round-the-clock work. After all that, graduates can expect to earn NIS 18,000 to NIS 28,000 a month depending on specialty and geographic location.

Amir Harpaz, director of Tel Aviv University's career development center, agrees that in many cases there is no correlation between the length of studies and training on the one hand and the pay offered at the end. "Each of these occupations has its own market and employment conditions," he says. "Therefore they can't be compared only on the basis of years of study invested. There are career paths that take longer to pay back the investment financially, like medicine or clinical psychology. In other professions, such as architecture, the threshold of frustration is high, as they often have difficulty finding a suitable job, and even when they do – the pay is modest. There are architectural graduates who give up."

Harpaz says in principle it would seem that students skilled in science don't need to think twice but should choose engineering or computer science. However, he cautions that longevity in high-tech professions is scarce. “People who are let go in the industry at the age of 40 and up have a hard time finding work, so the beginning of their careers may be promising but the future less so," he observes.

High pay after the army

If degree holders in the technological fields have it easy obtaining lucrative high-tech jobs, discharged soldiers who served in the military's technological units don't need a degree at all to land the same positions. Those who served in intelligence units such as 8200, in the computer service division, or the air force could make NIS 10,000 a month or more immediately upon discharge from the Israel Defense Forces.

Anyone who performed development work as a conscript could earn upwards of NIS 25,000 a month. "Service in an IDF technological unit is equivalent, from an employer's standpoint, to a high score on the psychometric test or a high academic grade-point average, and even more, because these people come with experience," explains Chani Yaakov, CEO at the Manpower Professional recruiting agency.

"The fact that young demobilized soldiers lacking a degree are well paid reflects the market's needs,” says Harpaz. “Employers are ready to pay for work experience, and rightly so. There is no 'fair' and 'not fair' here. They pay those who can provide the best output in the minimal amount of time. Graduates of the technological units are precisely the population that can deliver the goods."

Harpaz clarifies he does not mean academic experience isn’t needed.

"They will generally need to broaden their knowledge through studies, and that's what they do,” he says. “There will always be geniuses who go far even without academic learning, but they are few and could [struggle] as soon as they try to compete for more senior positions or management roles."

But it's not only the IDF's technological units that can provide a career. Other technical and professional army experience is also in high demand in civilian life and can be transferred to identical jobs. Included among such roles are practical engineers and mechanics (NIS 6,000 to NIS 12,000 a month), warehouse managers after serving in the standing army (NIS 10,000 to NIS 13,000 a month), and truck drivers – a profession highly in demand in civilian life that will earn them NIS 6,000 to NIS 10,000 a month.

There are also more relatively unique military jobs with demand in civilian life. Experience in the Oketz canine unit can lead to self-employment as a dog trainer or work abroad with security companies at NIS 12,000 to NIS 14,000 a month. Those who have served in elite units such as Duvdevan and the Lotar Eilat counter-terror unit can find a variety of security-related jobs in Israel and overseas at similar pay such as the training of foreign armies. Air force simulator instructors can find jobs in the defense industries while former naval commandos and veterans of the Yaltam combat divers unit can work as diving instructors for NIS 6,500 to NIS 10,000 a month.

Career planning should begin as early as possible, at high school age, aiming for appropriate army jobs, says Paule Tzuker, CEO of the recruitment firm Nisha. Since work experience is important for employers, Tzuker recommends already entering the profession during the course of studies.

"Try to engage in student jobs in your field already during the degree, even if it requires certain flexibility on your part in pay and conditions," she advises. "When you go out into the labor market this could give you an advantage over other candidates."

Daniel Bar-On