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Workers don’t want their old jobs on the old terms (nytimes.com)
55 points by wombatmobile 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments



Submitters: please post the original source so people know the site the article is coming from, and for the sake of the archives here. If there's a paywall workaround, it's fine to post it in the thread.

(We've changed the URL now from https://archive.ph/WR2LA to the original source.)


It would have been helpful to understand if the labor shortage is happening at the top or the bottom end of the career ladder. I always heard about it in the latter context - eg: restaurants struggling to find waiters, as opposed to unicorn startups struggling to hire their next head of marketing.

The author rushes to conclusion that the labor shortage is in the worker cohort that has the financial freedom to take a pay cut. It would have been nice to back that up with some data, especially since he did back up other parts of his essay - it's just that the conclusion comes out of the blue and with no supporting evidence.


The author links to FRED data that measure a 5% drop in workforce participation in the 55+ cohort. This is at least some evidence that older workers are taking it easy so far. (See https://fred.stlouisfed.org/ if you have not heard of FRED before.)


For visibility, this is the graph we're discussing: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/fredgraph.png?g=Gh7k

I think we all know why the 55+ year olds are seeing a dip - they have an exponentially higher chance of dying of Covid. A bit weird for such an obvious fact to not have been verbalized in the article. If anything, the graph above actually contradicts the title of the article - from what I can tell, all other age groups seem way more employed than I would have expected given the logistical and health concerns that the pandemic threw at us.


I could not find a precise definition of what the graph shows, but that's a graph of participation rate and not absolute numbers. I.e., of all the people who are alive at a certain time, what percentage are neither employed nor unemployed (where "unemployed" implies "looking for a job"). To confuse things even more, the whole percentage is normalized to Mar 2020=100.

Your estimate of the mortality in that cohort is likely off by an order of magnitude or more. I can't find an exact figure, so here is a back of the envelope estimate. https://euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps/ tells me that about 30,000 more people of age 45-64 died in 2020 in excess of a typical year. For the purpose of estimation, I assume as a worst case that they all were 55+ and that the number of 65+ people working is not too large. How many 55-64 people exist in Europe? The euromomo graph refers to a region of about 400M people. For the purpose of this estimation, assume that people live 100 years and that age distribution is uniform, so maybe 40M are in that age range. Thus, the extra mortality in 2020 would be less than 0.1%. You can criticize this analysis in many ways, but it's hard to believe that I am off by more than a factor of 5 in either direction. Thus, I don't see how "dead by covid" can possibly justify a 5% decrease in participation rate.


I honestly have a hard time following your math and don't have the time to find where the bug lies - but if you're going to deny that Covid has a more severe impact on older people, then we should just save each other time and agree to disagree.


Oh, I am not denying at all that Covid has a more severe impact on older people.

I am just saying that, looking at the data, maybe 0.1% of the 55+ workers died of Covid, and so Covid by itself does not explain the 5% drop in the FRED graph. Maybe part of the disconnect is that Covid disproportionately affects people too old to be in the workforce?


And I wasn't saying that the dip is because those people are no longer alive, but because they are just trying to be more careful and therefore avoiding exposure since they can afford to do so financially.


Assuming the labor shortage is also there in tech - I suspect there are shortages in some areas of tech, but not all - how are tech employers adapting? Are they willing to dispense with multi-stage, multi-day Byzantine interviewing? Such as the old: phone screen -> take home exam of some sort -> all day onsite interviews (including several whiteboard technical interviews) -> sometimes extended interview days -> followed by a few weeks before a decision is made. I just don't think a lot of job seekers want to put up with that anymore.


The labor shortage in tech doesn't exist. I know of so many very good engineers that were rejected by massive corporations that have gone on to do great things.

Google and other big employers will even brag publicly about how they reject the majority of great candidates because they are more afraid of false positives than false negatives. But then they'll turn right around and tell the government and universities that there is a tech talent shortage.


I think for the most part you're right. When companies start hiring people who have adjacent skills (instead of exact skills) and a growth mindset then you'll know they're really facing a shortage of talent. In the 80s & 90s there was much less nit-pickiness on the part of companies trying to find people with some exact exhaustive list of skills that must be complete in order for the candidate to even be considered - there was a an acceptance of the idea that people could learn on the job and grow into it. Hiring decisions were made a lot more quickly back then in my experience. It seems like they realized that it was better to get someone on the team and get them started towards getting up-to-speed than to wait around 6+ months or more trying to find some kind of exact perfect match.


This is my sense. Most companies are just bad at hiring, so they hire a bunch of bad engineers and then go "there's a shortage of good engineers!" No, you're just bad at attracting and selecting a good distribution.


It also takes good engineers to recruit good engineers. You don't know what your missing if you don't know it exists.


Yep. And those people need to be empowered and listened to enough to affect the hiring process. No great engineer I've ever met said "put them through 20 hours of leetcode, that'll do it." But here we are.


My sense is that there is a drain on experienced engineers at the moment. There are an awful lot of coding camp engineers that can't cut it as managers.


Mostly no, judging by my most recent job search. It seems to have been adjusted to have less contact with the company, though, at least upfront. This was pretty common for me: Recruiter Call, one of the following: 60 minute logic/psychological test, 60-120 minute website coding assessment, 90+ minute system architecture design, or a video interview where you answer questions recorded by a website, and the website might use A.I. to analyze how nervous and how good you are at eye contact and then uses your video as training data in the future.

Get past that, and then you might hear back from the company finally, and have 2-5 Zoom/Teams/Webex interviews, which also might have a live coding exercise included, which you mostly have to schedule individually and during the work day, and then hopefully hear back one way or another from a recruiter.

So for the most part you're doing 1.5-2 hours worth of effort before the company makes any effort on their part.


This is pretty unlike what I've ever seen at a company of any kind, and not what I've seen us do at Mux (oblig: we're hiring remotely--email's in my profile!).

ETA: Like a take-home test or whatever, that happens--I personally elect not to do them, but they do--but a psych test or whatnot creeps me out a lot.

There are plenty of companies out there who recognize that a developer's time is valuable, and while if you're very early in your career maybe you have to bite the bullet and put up with some garbage, there's value in dumping those sorts of orgs out of your inbox once you're safe to do so.


I interviewed with about 15 companies last time around, including multiple reputable non-FAANG companies and a couple of startups. Except for a handful that dropped out earlier and a couple that had a phone screen before the code assessment, this was pretty much the experience I had at all of them.

The two best and quickest processes I had still had a phone screen, a coding assessment, and 2-3 30 minute zoom interviews. They were the only two companies to extend an offer actually, all the others had enough interviews they eventually found an interviewer that I answered a question slightly to their disliking and disqualify me (all but one of the coding tests I took this time around I did really well on).

I know for one of them it was me saying to one of the architects I interviewed with that I got pulled off a project I was helping another department with, because my main department's business picked back up early 2021 and they desperately needed me back, and they somehow interpreted that as I was unable to complete any project given to me (according to feedback from the recruiter afterwards). I had already met with the cofounder of the company at that point even and figured they only bother to do that once given the go ahead from all the other interviews. That one was particularly annoying.

I have over 10 years of software engineering experience including some unofficial (all but the title) architect and project manager work at this point, btw.

The psych test was actually for a startup, believe it or not. I hadn't taken one of those since I applied for a job at Walmart twenty years ago.

Also I don't think I mentioned it, but I elected not to do the 1-sided video interviews. That legit creeped me out too much. I also never really found the motivation to dedicate a solid 2.5 hour block for the Amazon coding assessment (didn't help I read multiple negative articles about them on Hacker News around the same time).

On the plus side, I had a successful job hunt without any Leetcode practice (yet somehow did well on the coding tests anyway), so there's that. I delayed pulling the trigger on the job search for at least six months because I assumed I'd have to spend a solid month doing Leetcode to have any success, eventually just said "Screw it" and flipped the LinkedIn switch, and got recruiters flooding my inbox immediately.


I'm 20+ years into my programming career and still get asked to do a lot of this stuff. My fiance is chief of staff at another startup that does take homes. Some engineers are starting to invoice them for their time.

I mean, I hate these practices and the fact that my company also does not practice them is one of the reasons I work where I do. But there are a lot of companies with absolutely horrible interview processes.


> Some engineers are starting to invoice them for their time.

This is good to hear. I hope that starts catching on in a big way.


Yep. Just got my new job a few weeks ago and this was what the past few months of my life were like.

Interestingly, we recognize there is a massive shortage of senior talent and are adjusting our recruiting strategy accordingly.


How is your company adjusting their recruiting strategy?


I could tell you but then I'd have to hire you :)


Anecdotally my company removed take home exams for employees below senior.

Seniors still need to do it. But they didn't reduce a coding round for seniors. So continue to struggle with hiring


The path of least resistance is to expand the labor pool by opening or growing a new office in another region or country.


I spent 7 years taking the Toronto subway to and from work every day, thinking nothing of it. 45 minutes each way, and I considered it a great commute.

After 18 months of remote work, my team decided to do an in-person meetup. Morning in the office, afternoon doing a team event.

It was a great day, but I was blown away by how much I hated the commute. For the entire pandemic, I've been cooking great, healthy dinners starting at 5:30 every night. I got home after 6 that day and was too exhausted to do anything more than order in.

I'm not going back to that every day. My employer can make their decisions, but I've made mine.


Yep. I don't mind making the trip to the office from time to time (once every 1-2 months maybe), but I can't see myself agreeing to showing up every day ever again. Unless I'm working on actual hardware maybe, like a job in robotics or something, and even then I'd try to stay home as much as possible.


Yeah tbh 1-2 months would be ideal. Touch base, hit some stuff, grab a beer after work. But if we are just chugging along adding features and refining... why do you need to be in the office?

Maybe for a period of heavy design work... but wth.


My anecdotal evidence, is that this pandemic has made me think what it important for my family and me, and working 80+ hours a week, even if very well paid, is not something I want to keep doing in my mid fifties.

I am leaving a job abroad where I have been for 25 years, and returning home, to do some remote work. It may not work out, but I need to try.


Multiple people have mentioned that the pandemic was a profound period of self-reflection. Massive remote work coupled with a removal of distractions caused many people to change their future outlooks. I think it will be reflected in more things than just employment


People have wanted boomers to get out of the way for years, and with COVID, many of them might have done so. This opens up positions at the upper end of the tech ladder as well as thinning out the herd of part-time workers. Coupled with COVID concern, going (back) to school, moving and child care issues it’s not surprising there’s fewer bodies out there to hire.


I don't think this is just boomers or just service / hospitality workers.

I think that there has been a fundemental shift in how many people view / think about work and how it relates to society. I doubt we'll have a good grasp of what that shift consists of until years from now.


Can we add that this is an opinion piece?




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