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Andrew Whiteaker
Andrew Whiteaker,
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2020: The Year of the TechLash?
30 January 2020

Competition between employers to identify, attract and retain talent has led to a wide range of inventive perks and benefits being offered to employees over the last few years in addition to attractive salaries. In addition employers within particular sectors have found it easier to attract talent due to perceptions that candidates may have about them either in respect of the ethics of the businesses themselves or the nature of the work being undertaken. 

Until recently businesses in the tech sector have not had to be concerned about the perceived attractiveness of their industry, with tech companies consistently topping lists of the most sought-after available roles. Not only was the industry seen as modern and cutting edge, but graduates might also view working in the tech sector as being “cool” and more principled and socially responsible than many other career options available to them. 

However recent investigations in the US have identified a growing potential backlash against the idea of big Tech companies being the most in-demand roles for highly qualified graduates. 

The last few years has seen increased negative publicity for businesses within the sector with Facebook having been fined nearly $5 billion for the mishandling of data and Google being hit by internal protests about alleged proposals for a censored search engine in China and its handling of sexual harassment complaints. 

These and other similar stories have impacted upon the attractiveness of tech companies as a career option for graduates and their reputation with the wider populations. The New York times, in reporting on this shift identified a 2019 survey conducted by Pew Research Center which found that the share of Americans who believe that technology companies have a positive impact on society had dropped from 71 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2019. 

The interviews conducted by the New York Times found evidence of this shift in interviews with college students. One commented that "Working at Google or Facebook seemed like the coolest thing ever my freshman year, because you'd get paid a ton of money but it was socially responsible," but now, "there's more hesitation about the moral qualities of these jobs. It's like how people look at Wall Street." Another interviewee reported that taking a job in Silicon Valley is seen as “selling out,” no different from the economics majors going into consulting who are “lovingly and not-so-lovingly called ‘snakes.’” 

A similar investigation carried out by Slate found similar attitudes on US campuses, reporting on a campus group at Stanford called SLAP-Students for the Liberation of All People. SLAP was responsible for the unveiling of a banner opposite Palantir’s office in June 2018 reading “Our software is so powerful it separates families”. Students interviewed by Slate, even those studying computer science, indicated they were grateful for the noise being made by SLAP about Silicon Valley and that their concerns reflected a growing campus scepticism about the tech sector. 

These apparent changing attitudes are as yet not having a significant impact upon the ability of tech companies to secure a high number of applicants. For example Google still received 3.3 million job applications in 2019, an 18 percent increase over the previous year, and the finance industry has continued to be able to attract employees despite the reputational damaged caused to the industry by the global banking crisis.  

However what is clear is that an employer’s reputation can impact on its attractiveness to potential graduates regardless of the sector in which it operates and in the global race to recruit and retain the best talent it can prove the difference between a potential candidate choosing one employer over another.

If you require employment advice or further information, please contact Andrew Whiteaker at [email protected]
 

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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