Arab citizens have been largely marginalized in Israeli society, especially economically. While comprising 21% of the population, they generate only 8% of Israel’s gross national product. The gross monthly household income among Arab citizens of Israel is 7,590 NIS, compared to 15,151 NIS among the general population. Workforce participation among Arab women is 35% compared to 78% among their Jewish counterparts. As opposed to the Jewish population, where close to 90% of science graduates work in their field, only 20% of Arabs with science degrees work in the field. Israel’s technology sector, which generates 43% of national export revenues, operates almost exclusively in predominantly Jewish cities. Over 120,000 engineers are employed in Israeli hi-tech, but only 3.8% of them are Arab. While that percentage has increased significantly since Tsofen’s inception, it is still quite low.
Over two thousand Arab candidates are qualified to work in hi-tech but do not. Alongside that surplus exists a chronic shortage of hi-tech engineers, about 8,000 at present and projected to grow, according to Israel’s Chief Scientist, to 10,000 within a decade. This situation represents a market failure and a missed opportunity for Arab communities and Israeli hi-tech alike. Tsofen works to overcome the barriers to integration, promoting an economic reality in which market forces prevail and contribute to shared society in Israel.
When Tsofen began its work in 2008, less than 350 Arabs were working in hi-tech; today, that number has risen to 5000 – from less than 0.5% to 3.8% of the industry in less than a decade. Although Arab students are increasingly studying hi-tech subjects (computer science, electrical engineering, and mathematics), many are unable to find meaningful employment after graduation. Because Arab citizens—all but a few—do not serve in the army and are less likely to pursue internships as students, most university graduates have less industry experience than their Jewish counterparts. Additionally, hi-tech’s reliance on friend referrals—which are responsible for about 40% of new hires—put Arab candidates at a further disadvantage. Referrals reinforce the representation of existing groups and disadvantage minorities precisely because they are minorities.
Tsofen’s work addresses these structural issues. By developing a shared hi-tech community, offering internship-based courses, providing mentorship, and in operating informational workshops that give students exposure to the requirements of hi-tech careers, Tsofen’s programming helps level the playing field between Arab and Jewish hi-tech candidates.