Oregon, like Intel, looks beyond semiconductors.
Intel executives on Tuesday promised shareholders that they would shave 12,000 employees from the company’s global ranks, with half of that number losing their jobs by the end of the year.
“We are evolving from a PC company to one that powers the cloud and billions of smart, connected computing devices,” CEO Brian Krzanich said in a statement.
Krzanich provided no details, however, of the effect that the plan might have in Oregon, where Intel reports it is the state’s largest private employer with more than 18,000 employees.
But state economists expect the impact on the job market to be muted. Oregon, like Intel, has seen diminishing returns from the legacy hardware business that rose as the timber industry fell.
“Our strength has historically been semiconductor manufacturing,” said Josh Lehner, senior economist with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. “But it hasn’t been a growth industry in 15 years, and we weren’t expecting it to be going forward.”
Instead, a red-hot software industry is driving growth, from 2012 to 2015 adding more than 7,000 jobs in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties combined, according to the OEA. Hardware companies remain a heavyweight in terms of total number of jobs and total payroll, claiming more workers in the state than software publishers and computer system design firms combined, according to the Oregon Employment Department. But the hardware sector added fewer than 2,000 new jobs in those counties during that same time period.
“The question of whether Oregon transitions to a full-fledged software hub is an important one,” Lehner said.
Portland has been the seat of that emerging industry in the state, boasting notable homegrown companies like Puppet and also attracting out-of-state investment from companies like Salesforce. The growth has spurred a competitive environment for recruiters, called upon to nurture and import talent.
“You can’t find enough software engineers or developers,” said Scott Thompson, president of staffing firm Lexicon Solutions. “I mean, it’s a battle.”
And it’s a battle that largely leaves out workers in the business of manufacturing chips at Intel.
“Open source, mobile software and product design,” said Thomas Bivens, managing director of staffing agency 52 Limited. “The intersection of creative and digital technology. That’s where you want to be in Portland. Or the security and database side. All of that is pretty far away from Intel’s legacy business.”
Intel workers in growth sectors like wearable technologies likely will emerge from any layoffs with careers unscathed, he says. Likewise, project managers or systems engineers who worked with the semiconductor side of the business at Intel may be able to transfer their skills to the software industry.
“Those roles will be buffered from the impact,” Bivens said. But for a hardware engineer making semiconductors, “it’s a real gap from the software side.”
That doesn’t mean those workers won’t be able to find jobs at the other 148 companies that the Employment Department counts as manufacturing semiconductor and electronic components in Oregon. But John Boone, founder and president of staffing firm ProFocus Technology, said they should expect to take longer than their software peers to find new positions, and they may need to make concessions.
“All of the Intel people will find another job,” Boone said. “They’re all very employable. The technology trends are just so strong. Technology professionals are going to be able to find an opportunity. They might need to move to find a semiconductor job. But a lot of others have skills needed for jobs at other companies here in Portland.”