Survey reveals what Israel’s high-tech employers seek

Managers have a stronger affinity for “soft skills” reveals a survey commissioned by Afeka Academic College of Engineering and TheMarker.

Israel’s high-tech employers prioritize “soft skills,” such as independent learning and problem-solving, over previous experience and a relevant academic degree in their search for talent, and they display a stronger affinity for such skills than employers in other sectors, according to a new study commissioned by Tel Aviv-based Afeka Academic College of Engineering and Israel’s leading daily business newspaper TheMarker.

In the May 2023 survey conducted by the Rushinek Market Research Agency, 150 managers in the Israeli high-tech industry and 155 managers in other sectors were asked to weigh in on what they deemed most important during three different stages of a professional role: recruitment, addressing challenges in the workplace, and opportunities for advancement: a relevant academic degree, previous work experience, or soft skills. The survey utilized a “skills index” to pinpoint the most essential criteria for obtaining employment and succeeding in today’s workforce, which is constantly evolving due to the rise of artificial intelligence and other modern technologies. In all three categories, soft skills received the highest index score (most relevant), with the high-tech managers placing an even greater emphasis on the need for skills.

On a relevancy scale of 1 to 10, high-tech managers gave soft skills an average of 7.5 for recruitment, 8.0 for advancement and 8.1 for addressing challenges—with 7.8, 6.8 and 7.9 respective ratings for previous experience, and 6.8, 5.5 and 6.4 respective ratings for a relevant academic degree. For managers from non-high-tech sectors, soft skills were rated a bit lower in importance across all three categories, but still high in comparison to previous experience and much higher in comparison to relevant academic degrees.

The survey also delved into the specific skills managers are looking for, evaluating 13 different soft skills. 62% of high-tech managers valued being able to teach oneself new skills, compared with 50% of managers from other sectors. Additionally, 61% of high-tech managers agreed that being able to solve complex problems is crucial, with only 33% of managers from other sectors prioritizing this skill. 

Afeka College believes that these findings present an actionable roadmap for academic institutions—particularly, those focused on engineering and the other STEM disciplines—as they seek to address employment challenges in the Israeli high-tech sector, which has long grappled with tech-talent shortages.

“The importance of soft skills, even for engineers, is increasing each year. The exponential rate at which technology is advancing and the explosion of Artificial Intelligence solutions makes them a forerunner to the constantly changing knowledge base that is now readily available anywhere at any time,” says Prof. Ami Moyal, President of Afeka College. “That is why academic studies should incorporate developing these skills in students as part of the educational process, in addition to the concrete knowledge that today’s professionals need to succeed in the workforce.”

When asked about what skills employers are looking for overall, high-tech managers revealed that the 10 most highly prized core skills, in order of importance, were self-learning, complex problem-solving, proactivity, the ability to work independently, motivation, creative thinking, multidisciplinary teamwork, effective communication, emotional intelligence and leadership. Comparatively, managers from other sectors placed motivation as the highest priority, whereas complex problem-solving was much lower in priority.

“It is clear that the high-tech industry attaches great importance to the ability to work independently, self-learning, and dealing with problem-solving—issues that have always been crucial—particularly, for engineers,” says Moyal, “but their assessment is affected by the changes that are constantly taking place in the employment market, and more specifically remote work, which requires more emphasis on independent work. The growing importance of effective communication and multidisciplinary teamwork in the modern high-tech workforce should also be noted, as these skills were not as emphasized in the past.”

These findings are in line with Afeka’s broader institutional goal to transform engineering education. Since 2016, the college has embarked on a long-term journey of profound institutional change for the purpose of better preparing students for success in the modern workforce.

The change process is aimed at instilling in students not only knowledge but also the professional and personal skills and values that are needed to succeed in the workforce. This collection of knowledge, skills, and values is what makes up Afeka’s “graduate profile.” “The results of the new survey” summarizes Professor Moyal, “provide further support for what we already knew: “Soft” skills have become “vital” skills and in order to stay relevant, we must change our educational processes to better prepare the young generation of students for the ever-evolving modern workforce.

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