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Big Tech Layoffs Leave HR Professionals with Key Questions

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​With tech companies laying off workers in record numbers, many HR professionals who have spent a considerable portion of their careers in the industry are now thinking about their professional futures. Whether they're looking for new employment or not, this mass culling in Big Tech has major implications for the HR profession going forward.

Tech Bubble 2.0?

The tech world was rocked in early January when Amazon announced it would be cutting 18,000 jobs. Tech giants like Salesforce, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet followed soon after. Just yesterday, Dell announced 6,500 job cuts.

Mass layoffs occurring in one sector over a period of a few weeks garners a lot of media attention, but the tech sector has been cutting jobs for months. These cuts are the highest in the tech sector since the dot-com crash in the early 2000s. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for digital solutions to support shopping and working from home resulted in a hiring boom in Big Tech; now the industry is attempting to course correct.

"We were seeing annual talent growth rates of 30 percent to 50 percent in these companies that traditionally have 5 percent to 7 percent rates," said Chris Thorne, SHRM-CP, owner and president of Chris Thorne Consulting, an HR consulting firm based in Carlsbad, Calif. "Everyone knew that was unsustainable. So, we're seeing these companies just getting back to their normal growth rate."

Options for Tech Workers

The good news is there are options for tech workers seeking new employment. Tech positions occupy the top three spots in Indeed's Best Jobs of 2023 list for their relatively high pay and flexibility. The online job site added that demand for tech employees still exceeds pre-pandemic levels.

Midsize tech companies are still hiring quite normally, explained Laura Munson, vice president of sales and strategy for staffing and consulting firm ATR International in Santa Clara, Calif. "Midsize [tech companies] haven't been impacted as much as the large firms," she said. "The tech giants felt sort of invincible. There was such an uptick. But the midsize firms were cautious all along."

Newly unemployed tech workers may also want to consider contract work. Many tech companies—even some of the largest ones—are still hiring for six-month or one-year contracts. "An opportunity for candidates who really want those large company names on their resumes is to go into the contract workspace where often they make more money," Munson said.

Does Industry Experience Matter?

Workers in tech jobs aren't the only ones to feel the pinch; HR roles have been on the chopping block as well, particularly recruiters whose job was to find all that talent. Displaced HR professionals who have spent most of their careers in Big Tech may be apprehensive about looking for jobs in different industries. But should they be?

Employers often say that industry experience is relevant when hiring for new positions. But for HR, that normally shouldn't be the case, explained Tim Sackett, SHRM- SCP, a recruiting executive and president of the engineering and design firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, Mich. "If someone is trying to tell you that you can't work in HR in their industry because you don't have specific industry experience, there's a good chance that's a bad HR professional," he said.

[HR professionals looking for career guidance and trends can explore SHRM's career resource page.]

Sackett has held HR positions in multiple industries, including casual dining, retail, health care and technology, and said there really wasn't any difference from one role to the next. "The key is being able to speak the language of an industry, which can be learned fast enough," he said.

Laura Mazzullo, owner of East Side Staffing, a recruitment firm in New York City that specializes in placing HR professionals, pointed out that the onus shouldn't solely be on the job seeker to adapt to an industry before even having the job. Employers should evaluate every candidate fairly and be willing to help employees acclimate. "It's really both parties' responsibility," she said. "It's the candidates' openness to change and clarity on what they're looking for. And it's the employers' openness to training someone on their company and their industry."

Strategizing for the Future

HR professionals whose jobs survived these Big Tech layoffs may also be pondering their futures. Recruiters might be concerned their jobs will eventually be phased out if companies aren't hiring.

Mazzullo recommends those employees work to position themselves as strategic business partners. This is the time for talent acquisition professionals to meet with senior leadership to discuss how their organizations can grow and build better teams. "They can say, 'We know a lot about how we can improve our hiring efforts, and we want to take this time so we have a best-in-class process when we start ramping up again,'" she said.

Recruiters and other HR professionals may also want to look at reskilling. HR—like most professions—will be affected by AI technologies, Thorne noted. Forward-thinking HR professionals should learn what they can about these technologies to prepare for that shift. "Anybody who wants a future in talent, who is not leaning in heavily right now to learn AI technology and getting ahead of that curve, is going to be in another career field five years from now," he said.

Andrew Deichler is a freelance writer based in Maryland.


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