Tech employment fluctuates with the needs of companies. In cities like San Francisco, well-capitalized startups have driven the industry’s unemployment rate to ever-lower lows; at the same time, even some of the biggest tech firms—such as Microsoft—occasionally see the need to lay off thousands of employees.
In a typical quarter, some tech sectors see declining unemployment, even as others spike. In the second quarter, for example, the unemployment rate for programmers dipped from 6.5 percent to 1.8 percent; but computer support specialists, network and systems administrators, and database administrators all saw joblessness claims rise.
Among all those changes, one theme seems constant: Computer and electronic-product manufacturing continues to lose jobs. In the second quarter, it was 700 positions vaporized; in July alone, another 3,100 disappeared—the largest losses since December 2013.
While Apple and a handful of other tech companies have made noise about moving hardware manufacturing back to the U.S., the job numbers associated with those initiatives are often quite small—and for every new factory that opens to produce screens or smartphones, it seems like another closes down. Meanwhile, large factory complexes in Asia and other regions have perfected the art of cheap mass production at speed, to the point where potential rivals have a difficult time disrupting the existing paradigm.
If that didn’t make things difficult enough, the rise of factory automation has cut down on the number of manufacturing jobs available all over the world. Declining shipment numbers for PCs—which have been increasingly supplanted by mobile devices as folks’ computing hardware of choice—haven’t done the manufacturing sector any favors, either.
Rather than focus their careers on hardware, many tech pros have chosen to devote themselves to building software and cloud services. But that’s not to say that hardware jobs are disappearing anytime soon: Whether 3D printing, the open-sourcing of data center components, or the rise of self-driving cars, there’s seemingly always a new twist in the hardware game that will demand skilled workers. It’s just a question of having the right skills.