Wanted (Maybe): Laid-Off Techies

Non-tech companies want to hire recently laid-off tech workers, but culture and pay issues could stand in the way.  

In the past month, technology firms have laid off employees at a pace unseen since the dot-com bubble burst more than 20 years ago. By some estimates, the industry has shed around 60,000 jobs in the US alone.

But unlike the last tech meltdown, this one features an eager group of non-tech firms desperate to hire newly available data analysts, software engineers, and other highly skilled workers from the sector. Greg Button, president of Korn Ferry’s Global Healthcare Services practice, says he’s already fielding calls from clients looking to pick up recently displaced tech executives. And government agencies have long been accustomed to hiring highly skilled talent, including tech specialists, during economic downturns, says Wendy Monsen, Korn Ferry’s president of US Government Services. 

But non-tech organizations could face a difficult task, experts say, because tech workers may not be accustomed—or even like—the culture or pay scale of the non-tech world. “It can be hard to retain them,” says Kristi Drew, global account leader in Korn Ferry’s Financial Services practice. 

Compensation might be the most glaring difference between tech and other industries. The average annual base salary at the nation’s biggest tech firms is nearly $140,000, according to HR consultancy Revelio Labs. Tech workers at other firms earn an average of $110,000 a year, while those employed by the government make only about $80,000. Those figures don’t account for the equity grants and large bonuses many tech workers can earn. For-profit healthcare companies, for instance, might pay at close to the same levels, Button says, but they can’t offer the same long-term equity potential. “You’re accumulating wealth,” he says, “but not at the same speed.”

Instead of focusing on pay to attract tech workers, healthcare, government, and other organizations could highlight the relative job security of their industries. The government doesn’t go through rounds of layoffs, for instance, and sheerly on the basis of demographics, healthcare should be a growth area for years to come. Recruiters also could underscore the mission of their industries. Historically, healthcare has lagged behind other industries when it comes to technology innovation, meaning that newly hired ex-Silicon Valley types could make a huge positive impact on how services are delivered, Button says. 

The bigger obstacle for non-tech industries, however, is the culture that technology industry employees are accustomed to. The mantra of “move fast, break things” is a nonstarter both in healthcare, which prioritizes patient health, and finance, whose regulations and bureaucracies can slow progress. Indeed, attitudes toward innovation might be the biggest obstacle, even if a given industry can match the pay scale of the tech sector. “If you can’t protect innovation, an organization will crush it,” says Tanya van Biesen, managing partner of Korn Ferry’s Board and CEO Services practice in Canada. 

To attract tech workers, experts suggest carving out niches for engineers and coders to work on projects without feeling pressure to immediately win over users, says Sharon Egilinsky, a Korn Ferry senior client partner focusing on organizational strategy and sustainability.