Bay Area's unemployed tech workers struggle to keep pace with job market 

With Apple becoming the country’s most valuable company and other tech darlings going public or preparing to, it’s no wonder Silicon Valley has caught the attention of Washington, D.C., as a job creator. But while the local employment market bucks national trends, the jobs are increasingly reserved for the cyber-elite.

“If you were a minor tech employee at a B company, you are not going to come back to the tech industry anymore because they only want top talent,” said Kris Stadelman, executive director of NOVA, a federally funded employment and training agency based in Sunnyvale. “Many of our tech workers are going to be left behind.”

Area job-seekers who have been out of technology’s fast-moving stream for a year or more, or those without an A-list school or blue-chip company pedigree, are finding it tough to land a job even as Silicon Valley’s unemployment rate has gone down.

But graduates from the top computer science schools in the nation — such as MIT, UC Berkeley, the University of Southern California, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon — are getting as many as 10 offers, Stadelman said.

The solution for those who are out of work may be to look for secondhand tech jobs in government, biotech or finance — once hiring in those sectors picks up, Stadelman said.

But there might be other ways to get in the door.

A report put out last month by various local workforce boards laid out how applicants can adapt to evolving demands as Silicon Valley tech firms continue to expand their high-skill workforces — 15 percent growth is expected over the next two years. Silicon Valley has seen its unemployment rate drop nearly 2 percent in the past two years, from 11.7 percent in July 2009 to 9.9 percent in May 2011.

California’s jobless rate was at 11.8 percent in late July, the highest in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Based on extensive interviews with recruiters and executives, the report found that companies are most likely to hire applicants with recent experience, a passion for their field and a résumé that “shows,” not “tells,” what their skills are.

“Don’t say you took such and such a software class; hand me your laptop and show me what you did,” Stadelman said.

Mike Curran, interim director of the San Mateo County Workforce Investment Board, an agency that helped draft the Silicon Valley study, said applicants who are older than 40 or have been out of work for a while have to overcome “stereotypes.”

One of the best ways to do that is by gaining recent experience at a tech company, either as an employee, contractor or even a volunteer. Cultivating professional networks through meet-ups, online boards and LinkedIn, among others, also is a way to make yourself stand out, Stadelman said.

“Applying online, you are throwing your résumé out into a black hole with thousands of others,” said Heather Samaras, regional director of Jobspring Partners, a national tech recruiter with offices in San Francisco.

Still, a wider trend may be working against job-seekers: While local companies are widely lauded for creating jobs, those jobs are often based elsewhere, Curran said.

“The reality is, if your tech job is lower in the food chain, companies are doing all they can do to ... move it somewhere cheaper,” Curran said.


Stay fresh

Recommendations for seekers of high-tech jobs:

- Network with employers and other job seekers through area workforce programs

- Keep skills current with training and education

- Volunteer at tech companies to get current, hands-on experience

- Have a passion for your field

- Become part of the community of professionals in your field through social media, meet-ups, job boards and other forums


For the hunted

Perks being offered by big tech companies to graduates from top computer-science programs:

- Matching 401(k)s

- Stock option packages

- $20,000 sign-up bonuses

- Salaries as high as $110,000

- Four-weeks or unlimited vacation (provided work is complete) packages

- Free lunches

- Technology such as suped-up laptops, big monitors and iPads

Source: Jobspring Partners


Fresh faces have advantage

As out-of-work techies watch the last of their unemployment checks roll in, graduates from the nation’s top computer science programs are getting dog-piled by big employers — and with big offers.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga and LinkedIn — all of which are hiring — are courting grads with perks such as $20,000 sign-on bonuses and extended vacation packages, said Heather Samaras, regional director of Jobspring Partners, a national tech recruiter with offices in San Francisco.

“[Companies are] so competitive and they feel money is no object, and for people at the top of the brain chain they’ll pay anything to get them because they see what that does to the bottom line,” said Kris Stadelman, executive director of employment and training center NOVA.

Rather than hire the unemployed, firms increasingly try to cherry-pick competitors’ employees or pick up self-taught whizzes that showcase unusual talent in the three- to four-hour, highly technical interviews applicants are routinely put through, said Samaras.

Kee-Yip Chan, a 25-year-old Web developer and software engineer who graduated from UC Santa Cruz’s computer science program — ranked 50th in the nation — was recently plucked from his Santa Cruz-based company and hired on with a big raise by San Francisco’s Huddler, which creates online forums. He said he may have been picked because of his flexibility.

“There’s usually distinct skill sets and most people fit into a certain bracket,” Chan said. “My advantage is I cover several of those.”

Chan said his age may have played a role in his hiring, but added that older candidates may have the advantage of more experience.

David Milburn, 57, might disagree.

A corporate trainer from San Carlos with an advanced degree and 15 years of experience in his industry, Milburn has sent 50 applications out over the past two years, yet only landed a “few” interviews.

The problem, as Milburn sees it, is there is a “generation gap” between him and the companies he’s approaching.

Milburn said his strategy is to continue seeking contract work that will lead to a full-time position in his field while he works part-time, minimum wage jobs at a bike shop and a solar startup.

— Niko Kyriakou

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