What the Israeli Job Market Wants: Facility With Numbers, College Degree Not Required

Survey shows jobs requiring analytical and quantitative abilities are growing the fastest, but local schools aren’t teaching math and science successfully

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Israeli student taking a math exam, Ashdod, August 9, 2019
Israeli student taking a math exam, Ashdod, August 9, 2019Credit: Ilan Assayag

The Israeli economy’s need for highly skilled workers, especially in the fields of technology and mathematics, is growing quickly, although not always for people with college degrees and advanced training.

The Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry said this week that the five jobs that have seen the most growth in pay and demand are high-tech sales people, statisticians, actuaries, economists and licensed electricians. In each, employment and salaries recorded double-digit percentage growth from 2012 to 2017.

“We’re seeing more occupations requiring quantitative and analytical abilities as well as marketing skills. We’re also seeing from the figures that growth is occurring in fields that require professional training and not just a college education,” said Rony Schnitzer, director of policy strategy and planning at the ministry.

The growth in the number of high-skilled jobs, especially those requiring excellent math and science skills, comes at a time when Israeli schools seem to be failing in both areas. Results published last week for the 2018 international PISA exam, administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that Israeli high school students scored significantly worse than they did three years earlier. The percentage of failing students reaching a 10-year high and gaps between stronger and weaker students were greater than for any other participating country.

Israeli PISA scores vs. those of other countriesCredit:

The occupation with the greatest growth in demand was high-tech sales. Pay rose an average of 71% between 2012 and 2017, to an average of 26,400 shekels ($7,600 at current exchange rates) a month, while the number of people employed in the category jumped 84%, to about 4,400. Demand for mathematicians also rose, presumably due to demand in high-tech and an older generation of mathematicians retiring. The number employed grew 61% to about 2,400 while salaries climbed 32%, to an average of 22,500 shekels a month.

Despite rising demand, the number of math students in Israeli higher education fell 10% from 2015 to 2019, to 2,415, according to the Council for Higher Education in Israel. Graduate enrollment in the field remained steady, however, at around 750 for master’s degrees and 267 for doctorates. That said, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported that the number of undergraduates studying math there jumped 20% this year.

Zviran Compensation & Benefits Solutions, which conducts periodic surveys of pay and benefits in Israel’s high-tech industry, says that demand for mathematicians with advanced degrees has grown in response to the growth of data science.

“There’s a shortage of about 400 workers in data science,” said Gil Shely, Zviran’s chairman. “Many companies are looking for experienced researchers in the field and most of them want workers with at least a master’s degree. The field is developing very quickly and pay has grown in recent years due to rising demand.”

Israel’s institutions of higher education are catching up with the demand. In 2016, the Council for Higher Education in Israel approved the first degree program in data science. Two years ago, it approved a plan to expand and develop the field by launching 16 bachelor’s programs and two university research institutes. Top researchers will be eligible for scholarships.

Demand for economists has also grown, even as enrollment in the field has declined — so steeply that an international committee appointed by the council to study the trend termed it a crisis situation. In 2012-17, the number of jobs for trained economists grew 69% while pay rose 42% to 21,500 shekels a month on average.

Demand for loan and investment consultants increased 36% in the period and pay by 49% to an average of 24,000 a month, according to the ministry survey. Mechanical engineers saw their pay increase 26% to 24,300 and the number employed in the field by 59%.

The best-paying profession in the survey was, not surprisingly, specialist physicians. Demands for them has been strong but stable over recent years because, according to the Health Ministry, Israel’s medical schools aren’t training enough future physicians to meet needs. Their average salary in 2017 was 41,50 shekels a month.

Israeli odctors in Jerusalem's Shaare Tzedek Hospita, 2011lCredit: Emil Salman

Perhaps more surprisingly, the survey found that having a college degree by itself has less employment value than it once did. Indeed, several of the fastest growing and most lucrative occupations don’t require one. Demand for licensed electricians, for example, rose 55% in the 2012-17 period. Pay rose by nearly as much, to 12,500 shekels a month on average. The number of refrigeration and air-conditioning technicians grew 47% while pay climbed 24% to an average of 11,800 a month.

The number of advertising and public relations managers, a field that doesn’t necessarily require a college degree or specialist training, increased 39% in the period, with average pay reaching 20,300 shekels monthly. The ranks of teachers soared 50% in 2012-17 but pay, which is set under nationwide collective bargaining agreements, was just 10,500 a month on average — low, considering the strong demand.

Many occupations are seeing the downside of high-tech as their tasks are taken over by computers and robots. For instance, the number of printers dropped 24% and pay declined 14% to just 8,600 shekels a month. The number of typists fell an even sharper 55%, and their average pay monthly declined to an average of a mere 5,000 shekels.