A new report in Bloomberg suggests that younger workers and college graduates are moving away from tech as the preferred industry in which to embark on their careers. While big tech companies and startups once promised skilled young workers not just the opportunity to develop cutting-edge, exciting products, but also perks and – for the most talented and ambitious newcomers – a relatively reliable path to wealth. (Who could forget the tales of overnight Facebook millionaires that fueled the previous dot com explosion? There were even movies about it!)
But aside from the intensity and hype around employment-eradicating AI apps, the big tech story of 2023 has been downscaling, belt-tightening, and massive layoffs. So far this year, tech companies have laid off thousands of workers, while cutting back on compensation packages, fringe benefits, and some of the other amenities and perks that made these jobs so sought after in the first place.
According to data compiled by Bloomberg, tech has shed nearly 200,000 jobs just since October, more than twice the number of layoffs that have hit the financial sector. Additionally, data on industry pay from Levels.fyi suggests that overall compensation packages within the industry have dipped as much as 25% in the past year. The rate at which these layoffs are happening also doesn’t seem to be slowing down very much, and may still even be increasing month-over-month.
Layoffs aren’t just bad PR that make current employees nervous and potential new hires dubious. They also mean there are simply fewer hands on deck at these companies to collaborate on important jobs; major rounds of layoffs also mean more work for the employees who got to keep their gigs. Meta, Amazon, Alphabet, and Twitter have all massively reduced the size of their workforce, including teams that deal with important time-sensitive tasks, such as fact-checking or community moderation. Those jobs don’t stop needing to be done because the people doing them got laid off; it’s just now more work for fewer staffers.
Many tech companies also rely on the promise of lucrative stock options when recruiting top graduates with significantly in-demand skills. But with tech stocks slumping in 2022, and bouncing back this year mainly on the backs of the AI craze, embarking on a new career with a brand like Meta or Amazon suddenly seems less appealing than it did just a few years ago.
According to Insider, anecdotal evidence from job forums like Blind and other communities such as Reddit also indicate that the “rise-and-grand” hustle mindset so prevalent in the industry – which became synonymous with tech culture during the last startup wave – has led to widespread stress, discontent, and burnout among employees, many of whom are purposefully seeking jobs outside the industry now that the big paydays are also drying up. The Washington Post reported that disaffected Amazon employees in Seattle – fed up with layoffs, return-to-office mandates, and some of the company’s other practices – are currently attempting to organize a mass walkout.
Within the tech industry, the massive hype around AI has been something of a reprieve from this torrent of bad news. But from the perspective of young people considering careers in tech, the industry’s love affair with thinking machines may also be triggering some concerns about the future.
In late April, Dropbox announced it would lay off 500 employees – around 16% of its total workforce – and use the savings to build out an AI division instead. CEO Drew Houston explained that “I’m determined to ensure that Dropbox is at the forefront of the AI era.” IBM CEO Arvind Krishna echoed a similar sentiment in May, suggesting that his company will pause hiring for roles that could potentially be replaced with AI in the near future. He suggested, over the next five years, IBM will likely replace 30% of its employees – around 7,800 people – with apps.
It shouldn’t be that terribly surprising when young people develop cold feet about entering an industry that’s already decided they’re irrelevant, with CEOs simply biding their time before they can fire everyone working on the floors below them. But even beyond the personal stakes, it’s also possible that young people are turning their backs on technology due to a reputational downgrade.
That said, some tech firms dominate both the top and bottom of Axios Harris’ annual “brand reputation survey,” which investigates how American adults feel about various companies. IN particuar, tech companies that produce tangible products or offer vital services continued to perform very well on the survey, with Samsung, Amazon, Apple, and Sony receiving positive appraisals from about 80% of surveyed adults. Conversely, social media and related internet companies – including Google, TikTok, Meta, and Twitter – found themselves near the bottom of the list, with reputation scores around the 60% line. That’s around the same level as bankrupted crypto exchange FTX.
Anecdotally too, it appears that many recent grads who would otherwise be pursuing careers in tech are moving over to the banking industry instead. As one global talent partner told Bloomberg, while tech course-corrects by dropping tens of thousands of workers, “on Wall Street, you work really hard and you make a lot of money. That’s the deal.”
In light of this moment, JPMorgan Chase, in particular, has ratcheted up its recruiting. The company’s workforce jumped 8% in the first quarter of 2023 vs. one year ago. All other factors aside, many of the top college grads are simply going to follow the money. Right now, that’s clearly leading them to the financial sector.
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