Silicon Valley’s uneven employment rates

Steve Henn Sep 17, 2010

Silicon Valley’s uneven employment rates

Steve Henn Sep 17, 2010


Tess Vigeland: Poverty is on the rise in this country. This week, the Census Bureau released figures showing more than 43 million people were living in poverty last year, up from 40 million in 2008. Much of that is thanks to the Great Recession and the persistent lack of jobs with which to make a living. But there are exceptions to every rule. And when it comes to jobs, hundreds of them are sitting open at high tech companies in Silicon Valley.

Steve Henn has our report.

Steve Henn: Valerie Fredrickson runs her own HR consulting firm in Menlo Park. She says for young engineers with the right skills and attitude, the job market here couldn’t be better.

Valerie Fredrickson: There is a really nice young man who is 25 who I know…

He just graduated from Stanford with degrees in math and computer science. His job search took less than a month.

Fredrickson: The first job offers came in around $100,000. By the time he actually accepted an offer, the pay had gone up an additional 25 percent. That’s huge for a 25-year-old kid.

Many of the biggest firms can’t get enough young talent. Take Samsung.

Fredrickson: There semiconductor division alone just got a $3.6 billion infusion of capital — and they’re on a hiring binge. They’re hiring hundreds of engineers, hundreds of technical sales people; they’re just going to really ramp up.

And then there’s Google. They’re hiring dozens of network engineers for their broadband projects, digital satellite imagery experts and Ph.Ds in electrical engineering.

Fredrickson: Google at their Mountain View location alone has almost 550 open recs right now.

Facebook has more than 150 openings here from advertising analysts to web app security specialists.

Yet despite all this hiring, across Silicon Valley the unemployment rate is over 11.5 percent. And during the past decade, the region has lost more than 140,000 jobs.

In Sunnyvale, the county job center it has never been busier.

Woman 1: Anybody here for LinkedIn?

The number of people coming in here has tripled in two years, and many of these job seekers are highly educated professionals accustomed to six-figure salaries.

Bruce: My background is technical, applied math and computer science.

When I met Bruce a couple weeks ago, he was on his way to an interview at a green tech start-up.

Bruce: Well, I’m heading off. It’s the final step, hopefully, and they will offer me some position.

The offer didn’t come. So he’s is still out there looking. He’s been out of work since 2009. Some of his friends at the center have been looking for more than twice that long.

And for tech workers whose skills need to be on the cutting edge, being out of work in Silicon Valley is kind of like aging in dog years. Mangers say they rarely hire from the ranks of the unemployed. And many middle aged, out-of-works professionals here say they are constantly fighting some brutal stereotypes. You hear it when talking to headhunters like Fredrickson.

Fredrickson: So many people who got laid off the last few years were laid off from big companies. And frankly they weren’t that productive. So now they have been out of work for a couple of years, things are worse and it’s kind of like they’re like Rip Van Winkles waking up from a long slumber.

And there are signs the employment market here is splitting apart. There are the haves, like that 25-year-old Stanford whiz kid, and the have-nots, often middle-aged professionals.

Tahir Naim: You put in an application, you get no response, because people are getting a deluge of applications. And they don’t have time to respond.

Tahir Naim has here before. He’s a lawyer who specializes in employee benefits like stock option plans. It’s a cyclical business, and he’s been laid off twice in 15 years. But this time, instead of sending out resumes, he’s starting his own firm.

Naim: In this economy, you can’t necessarily think of yourself as just an employee. If I can’t be an employee, I can certainly try to make something happen as an entrepreneur.

He believes consulting is a better path to a full-time job than applying directly. And the stigma of being out of work here is so intense that Fredrickson advises CEOs who are looking for a job to stay involved with their boards and venture capitalists and to lie.

Fredrickson: Just announce to everybody, “I am taking time off. I’m just going to be with my kids.” Because once people have an idea that you are looking for a job, it’s kind of like, I don’t know, sharks smelling blood. They’re just going to be turned off and not interested in you.

Because here in Silicon Valley, everyone’s supposed to be entrepreneurial and independent, hard at work, creating the next new thing. So admitting that actually you really need a job, as well as the paycheck that comes with it, is taboo.

In Silicon Valley, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace Money.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.