Talent Tides: The Expanding Landscape of the Tech Workforce
Jan. 9, 2024—Worldwide, there’s been an unprecedented emphasis on regional economic development and innovation capacity. Programs increasingly support innovation and technological breakthroughs in regions outside the usual tech centers. The U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Tech Hubs and National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines programs foster research groups across the country with specific foci, like the UK’s Catapult Network of centers acting as hubs for a range of sectors. As new R&D hotspots arise globally, what does it mean for U-I partnerships and the distribution of essential research-focused talent?
Rise of the rest
Silicon Valley is nearly synonymous with innovation; as a global center for technological advances, it has paved the way for myriad high-tech businesses and inventions. For decades, Silicon Valley and other tech-focused ecosystems across the world have employed a majority of the tech workforce—a status quo that might be changing. According to the Wall Street Journal, Silicon Valley lost nearly 1,400 tech workers between 2020 and 2022, while the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area gained 30,000. Cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, Miami, Austin, and Nashville are gaining more and more tech workers as they leave cities like San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles.
Brookings points to more than $230 billion in private semiconductor and electronics manufacturing investments and the CHIPS and Science Act as driving forces behind this shift. The U.S. tech sector has continued to grow over the past decade, adding more than 1.2 million jobs from 2010-2019, but the pandemic marked a shift in the growth rates for large, “superstar” tech cities. Annual growth rates for established tech cities slowed from 4.9% pre-pandemic to 2.9% in 2020. While large tech cities still account for most tech jobs, they could soon be eclipsed by up-and-coming metro areas if this shift becomes a pivot.
Investment in new tech hubs has driven the flow of talent into smaller tech cities, creating a prime environment for cross-sector research partnerships to flourish. Much of the investment in the United States focuses on fostering U-I partnerships, like EDA’s Tech Hubs and NSF’s Engines. Even without specific funding for partnerships, a more decentralized tech workforce can be beneficial for less populated regions. With new tech jobs and companies emerging in more diverse areas, universities, as innovation anchors, can leverage the opportunity to engage with more local tech firms and companies for research and development. Diversifying talent increases knowledge sharing, introduces new perspectives to organizations, and can lead to more localized economic development.
Global tech jobs
In the European Union, information-communication technology (ICT) jobs increased by over 57% from 2012 to 2022, compared to 8.8% for total employment. Demand for ICT jobs has persevered despite the effects of global financial and economic crisis and has continued to increase in the EU. Europe itself is home to several superstar tech cities, including Paris, Berlin, and Stockholm. According to CompTIA, the top four metropolitan areas in the UK employ around 33% of the nation’s tech workers, with London and Birmingham seeing the highest increases year over year. Overall, tech jobs across Europe are on the rise, mainly drawing people to large powerhouse cities as more ICT workers are needed. Like the U.S. Tech Hubs and Regional Engines programs, the EU Innovation Valleys seek to spread tech-focused economic vitality to less populated areas, but it remains to be seen if jobs will follow the government research investment.
Why it matters
Legislation impacting the research landscape has far-reaching implications. As the United States and EU fund innovation in new regions, the tech workforce is expected to expand and grow. More geographically diverse tech workers and companies means more opportunities for research collaboration and local economic development. Worldwide, tech jobs are on the rise, and increased demand for skilled talent in the tech sector is an avenue for universities, industry, and government to work together to foster a diverse workforce.
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