Company Culture
Culture Builder / Economics / Hiring

How big population trends will shape your tech workforce

French philosopher Auguste Comte is credited with capturing how big unseen trends impact our everyday lives: “Demography is destiny.”

Boomers and Zoomers meet, but there aren't enough Zoomers to replace the Boomers. (Image by Christopher Wink, made with Midjourney.)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink, Technical.ly’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up to get the next one.

The entire rich world had a baby boom after the Second World War. But American Boomers did something that most other rich-world Boomers didn’t. American Boomers had a lot of kids — the Millennials. More than half of Americans living today are Millennial. Hi!

That means the American population pyramid has two big bulges. The Boomers are aging into retirement, taking with them millions of productive work hours and billions of investment dollars. Millennials are right now in our late 20s to early 40s. That’s who employers are hiring into mid-level and senior roles. In contrast, Gen X is relatively small — that’s so punk rock of youse all. And what children they did have are Gen Z, whom we love but are another smaller generation — maybe 5-7 million fewer than Millennials.

Try to replace lots of Boomers with a few Zoomers, and we have a structural shortage of workers looming. Early retirements have contributed to our tight labor market. French philosopher Auguste Comte is credited with succinctly capturing how big unseen trends impact our everyday lives: “Demography is destiny.”

Today about 8% of the U.S. labor force works in “tech.” That includes both jobs at tech companies, and tech jobs at every other company. The demand for software developers will grow far faster than the population over the next decade at least. We might need to double the percentage share of Americans in what we today call tech jobs.

And that’s happening amid a big geographic realignment, too. Americans are shifting to the South and the Southwest — have been since we invented air conditioning. The Northeast and Midwest are emptying out. The exceptions? Places that attract immigrants, and Millennials. New York and DC are fine; Chicago and Philadelphia probably are, too. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Ohio all could make the cut, but we have extra work to do. Delaware is bucking the trend by attracting Boomer retirees — for now. But Milwaukee? St. Louis? I still worry.

If you are hiring in or growing tech economies in the United States, I have advice for you. If you’re doing this north of the Carolinas and east of Denver then you have two options, listen to me or quit your job. We’re working with four tools:

  1. Immigration: We’ve lost ground, but the US remains the most attractive place for people around the world to immigrate to, according to Gallup — and it’s not close. Hiring internationally will help. But we can still welcome the best of the best. Why wouldn’t we?
  2. Education: From kids to university research to career changers, we need more people to be part of the tech economy. This also means reskilling older workers: Keep those high-performing Boomers as long as you can!
  3. Parties: Get very involved in your nearest city’s tech and startup community. Build relationships; have fun doing it. A more dynamic, more livable city is a recruiting and economic development strategy. Remote-only companies are free-riders.
  4. Stories: Stories are the only way to stand out when every company is a tech company and every city is a tech city. And hi, hey there, we at Technical.ly can help there.

The 20th century computing era came as the rich-world workforce was surging. Ours isn’t. The only open workforce question is whether artificial intelligence can deliver as many productivity gains as some hope. If AI replaces 300 million jobs, we might not even have the people to lose them. Unless us Millennials have our own baby boom.

Series: Builders

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