Governments, nonprofits, and small startups hope to scoop up people let go by the likes of Meta and Amazon. It’s their big chance to lure top-tier talent.
Remote work. Competitive salaries. A streamlined hiring process. They’re all perks being offered to prospective tech workers from an unlikely employer: the US government.
Soaring Silicon Valley salaries, perks, and stocks have allowed Big Tech companies to lure the industry’s top employees for years while government jobs sat open. But as companies like Meta, Amazon, and Google have cut jobs or slowed hiring, government, nonprofit, and smaller companies are now seizing the moment and looking to catch the attention of out-of-work technologists. The US Department of Veterans Affairs seeks tech workers to fill 1,000 roles. They’ll work on solving problems like modernizing benefits software and revamping medical appointment scheduling. (“Silicon Valley isn’t the only place for tech innovation,” the department’s information technology office tweeted last month.) Big Tech’s losses could be a boon to these employers.
“It’s a very interesting confluence of events,” says Charles Worthington, the VA’s chief technology officer. “There’s this increased interest in public service. There’s obviously new headwinds in the tech industry that are leaving more people needing a job. And then there’s these great opportunities at the VA.”
Nearly 1,000 tech companies around the world have laid off more than 150,000 tech workers this year, according to Layoffs.fyi, a site that tracks publicly reported job cuts in the industry. Meta cut 11,000 jobs and Amazon 10,000 in November. Smaller cuts at companies like Lyft, Snap, and Stripe have shown that uncertainty is widespread in the tech world.
But tech jobs make up just a small slice of the US economy, and experts say recent layoffs are a high-profile outlier occluding a strong job market still hungry for workers. So, tech workers are turning elsewhere for opportunities, and they’re increasingly looking for jobs in nonprofits, smaller startups, and government. The jobs don’t all come with access to swimming pools or flush stock options, but these employers hope they can woo the influx of talent, now that there’s less competition in the private sector. And their stability could become a big selling point.
“People are taking this moment of uncertainty as a way to pause and reflect on what they’ve been doing and see if there’s an opportunity for them to work on something different,” says Jessica Watson, the chief experience officer at US Digital Response, a nonprofit that helps governments with digital expertise. It has seen more applications for in-house roles and more interest in government tech roles.
Some governments have long struggled to secure top tech talent and younger workers. The divides in the private and public sector extend beyond the US. In the UK, public sector pay has fallen to a 19-year low, making competition with private industries harder. But in China, some young workers are ready to leavebehind a volatile tech industry for greater security. Finland’s government was so eager for tech workers to join the country’s industry that, in 2021, it gave foreigners 90-day visas to try out life in Helsinki.
As uncertainty grows amid declining tech stock values, more young people may consider the shift, too. US Digital Response cohosted a job fair in December planned in response to the recent layoffs. Ten state and city governments from around the US came to make their case to the prospective workers. The state of California is looking to hire nearly 2,500 tech workers, according to Matthias Jaime, deputy secretary of technology and innovation for the state. San Francisco is advertising government roles that require only one day in the office per week. But in addition to convenience, regular hours, and pensions, those recruiting for more government and nonprofit workers are advertising a fuzzy, warm feeling that comes from making a positive impact. “I think it is a super compelling mission,” Kurt DelBene, chief information officer with the VA, says of working in the department. “You’re basically delivering to people who have made their commitment to all of us, the biggest commitment they can make, by being in the armed forces. And they deserve our support.”
Tech Jobs for Good, a job board that focuses on mission-driven employers, saw a 40 percent increase in job-seeker profiles in May, says its founder, Noah Hart. That’s around the time tech layoffs began at Carvana, Klarna, and Robinhood. In October, as other tech companies began cutting employees, profile sign-ups jumped another 30 percent, Hart says. “There’s been a longer trend of more and more job seekers looking for impactful roles,” Hart says. “A lot of organizations are still hiring and are getting a lot more applications.”
Nonprofits and governments are trying to become more competitive. The average job posted on Tech Jobs for Good pays $118,000 to $134,000 Hart says. By comparison, software engineers at Google make between $98,000 and $330,000, and data scientists earn $113,000 to $200,000. The VA is working to close the existing pay gap between its roles and the private sector by 60 percent. And for some employees, making an impact and having a remote job might mean more than Silicon Valley perks and plummeting company stock prices.
Smaller startups or industries like retail and health care are also benefitting from the group of technologists let loose. “It does create an amazing opportunity for companies in pretty much every industry to work with this amazing talent,” Leonardo Lawson, founder and CEO of Bond Creative MGMT, a management consulting firm, says of the layoffs. “The companies that are sleeping on [hiring laid off tech workers], they’re going to really regret it.”
The most proactive employers could walk away winners. Joshua Browder, CEO of AI robot lawyer company DoNotPay, tweeted in November that he wanted to hire people affected by layoffs and would offer jobs to immigrants and sponsor their visas to help people who lost their jobs stay in the US. He says DoNotPay had four open jobs, but that tweet sent hundreds of applicants its way. By mid-December, DoNotPay had already made offers to candidates, Browder says.
“I was actually quite surprised that the companies were laying them off, because they are incredibly talented people,” Browder says. “I think these companies are making a mistake by being too aggressive with their layoffs.” Six months ago, Browder says, he likely would have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a recruiter to get such talent. Now, they’re landing in his inbox for free.
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