Nonprofit Seeks to Even Playing Field for Israeli Arab Techies

Itworks offers advice and aid to job seekers, including women and Haredim, underrepresented in industry

Moshe Kozlovski and Ifat Baron-Goldberg, Netanya, November 20, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

Thirteen years ago Ifat Baron-Goldberg worked in the Netanya offices of the U.S. tech firm Cisco. The high-tech life was comfortable but she couldn’t help notice the homogeneity of the people she worked with: Most of them were Jews, men, residents of greater Tel Aviv and secular.

It was against this background that Baron-Goldberg formed the nonprofit itworks and is today its co-CEO. Its mission is to boost employment diversity in Israel’s high-tech industry, in particular for Israeli Arabs, Haredim, women and residents of the periphery. It also wants to help solve the industry’s chronic shortage of skilled workers – a problem made worse by the fact that so many segments of the Israeli population are so underrepresented.

Moshe Kozlovski, itworks co-CEO, says the organization is seeking to correct a market failure. “One market failure is the labor shortage in the industry – 15,000 workers, according to a report by the Israel Innovation Authority and Startup Nation Central. We think that in reality it’s bigger,” he said.

“The second market failure is that there are thousands of Arab students in the exact sciences – at the Technion, 600 Arab students began this year out of a total class of 1,800,” said Kozlovski. “But this doesn’t manifest itself in the labor market and the rate of high-tech employment, where only 3% of employees are Arabs.”

itworks does this in several ways. One is by arranging meetings between tech executives and Arab computer science students, help in writing CVs and running courses on the “soft skills” they need to enter the tech industry, such as how to succeed in job interviews.

In recent weeks the nonprofit has expanded its mission by launching a high-tech placement firm called ITalent, which brings companies together with job seekers in exchange for a fee. All profits go back to the parent nonprofit.

“We’re not talking about a simple job placement firm, but an organization that accompanies you through your career,” said Baron-Goldberg. “ITalent’s goal is to accompany candidates throughout the hiring process – help with writing their CV and preparing for the interview during the hiring itself, helping them find a place inside the company and in career advancement.”

Baron-Godlberg says ITalent has enabled tech employers to find hirees that are under the radar of ordinary manpower agencies – people whose CVs don’t even reach them.

“There are candidates who are never considered because of recruiters’ prejudice or even due to biases of automated recruitment systems – because in some cases, bots are the ones that filter the resume,” she said.

ITalent is creating what she called a unique database of thousands of job candidates, tapping communities, friends and students. That includes women, who she noted comprise only about a quarter of Israel’s high-tech workforce.

Kozlovski doesn’t believe that the under-representation of Arabs in tech is due to racism but to difference between social networks and background. “An Arab candidate won’t have served in the army, so he has no previous work experience,” he said. “In addition, today 60% of high-tech workers are recruited by the system of a friend bringing a friend – which is something an Arab candidate doesn’t have.”

A third market failure that Baron-Goldberg and Kozlovski both point to is that Israeli companies tend not to hire junior employees at the start of their career and without experience, a phenomenon that has been dubbed “the junior crisis.” Companies prefer not to take on the responsibility for training inexperienced staff.

That’s where the army fits in: Employees fresh out of the Israel Defense Forces’ tech units are regarded as experienced workers, even senior staff. But because Arabs and Haredim typically don’t serve in the army, that track doesn’t exist for them.