Q&A with Tom Hopcroft, President and CEO: The Shape of the Tech Talent Acquisition Landscape in Massachusetts Today

Jody Robie, SVP Talent Works, discusses Tom’s perspective on the complexities of hiring tech talent and the challenges companies are facing nationwide and in Massachusetts today

Q: What does talent acquisition look like in Massachusetts today? 

A: Massachusetts is representative of what is being seen in other tech hubs around the country.  I speak regularly  with tech CEOs, and we conduct a lot of research for our State of the Tech Economy and other reports. The good news here in Massachusetts is that talent is by far the number one reason that companies choose to locate here. The bad news, of course, is that it’s also a big challenge to hire enough great talent. In fact, it is the greatest constraint to growth that our executives report year after year. 

Q: How has the pandemic impacted talent acquisition? 

A: The pandemic has put greater pressure on the talent demand side of the equation. It’s also accelerating a trend towards every company being a tech or tech-enabled company. In Massachusetts, we have about 350,000 jobs in the tech sector: about 180,000 of those are technical jobs and the other 200,000 are not. But when we look across all of the other sectors, here in Massachusetts, there are another 100,000 people who are being employed in technical occupations that are outside of the sector. So the pandemic is accelerating this demand for tech workers, both inside and outside of the sector. 

Q: How are Massachusetts-based tech companies thinking outside the box when it comes to finding talent for tech roles that may be difficult to fill? 

A: The pandemic has demonstrated that tech workers can work and be productive working from anywhere. This is great, as it means our tech companies can source and hire talent from outside the region. We see lots of companies who are hiring people that aren’t in any proximity to any of their offices, which opens up a whole new pool of talent.

Q: Is there a downside to opening up to global talent? 

A: It means that local companies are now competing even more than ever globally for top talent. The supply and demand pressure is visible in our labor markets. Our median tech wage is over $97,000 in Massachusetts, which is about 72% higher than the overall state median. And it places Massachusetts with the third highest tech wages after California and Washington. This gives you a sense of how competitive it is right now. Interestingly, overall, Massachusetts itself is also number three after New York and D.C. for professional services, financial services, and other kinds of jobs. 

Q: What about labor shortages and economic concerns? 

A: Many people talk about the ‘great resignation’, and we hear a lot of conflicting media reports. But from where we sit, the fundamentals of our ecosystem are strong. We have a strong industry, strong schools, and strong talent, which are indicators of a strong economy. 

Q: What does diversity look like in tech in Massachusetts today? 

A: I’ll state one of the obvious things about tech, which is that we’re not a very diverse sector. But with the great resignation and potentially a third to half of workers changing jobs, there’s an opportunity here to refresh tech organizations with a more diverse workforce.

There are many structural barriers built in that slow progress towards a more diverse workforce so DEI needs to start at the top. Executive management and boards need to really think about what they stand for as an organization and reflect this from the C-suite and the boardroom all the way down throughout the organization. It can’t just be about signing a pledge: it’s about really making commitments and getting CEO and executive buy-in at the top. 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen companies take DEI more seriously and we’ve seen a real sea change in perspectives. A good analogy is this, when the tide goes out, it exposes the rocks that have been there all along. And we need to address those rocks, which goes all the way back to our investment in education and addressing the structural issues in the industry and broader community. 

This is a time of profound change in the world and what entrepreneurs love about change is the opportunity it creates for innovation. There’s a big opportunity here for us all to be more entrepreneurial in our thinking, and to refresh tech organizations with a more diverse workforce. To do that, we need to be intentional and have a more open discussion. 

Q: Can you tell us about a few of the diversity-focused initiatives MassTLC has seen recent success with? 

A: We have had 100 companies sign on to the Tech Compact for Social Justice, which was created under the leadership of our Executive Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee (EDISC). When companies join the Tech Compact for Social Justice, they commit to making change within their organizations, and to making the Massachusetts tech industry more welcoming, and more inclusive. It’s not just about signing a piece of paper. It’s about recognizing that our companies, our region and the tech industry have not done enough to support and encourage inclusion of black, Latinx and Indigenous people, and to explore options for how the industry can come together to create meaningful change and demonstrate leadership in diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

Our Board-Ready Bootcamp welcomed over 200 people into this leadership development initiative over the past couple of years. The program is designed to improve the quality of board governance and composition at tech companies by providing a high-impact curriculum onboard fundamentals, strategy and governance. Given the lack of diversity in the tech boardroom, the bootcamp is focused on preparing underrepresented tech leaders, including Black, Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, and women tech executives. 

Through these and other initiatives, we’re starting to see change and starting to see people taking diversity more seriously. But there is much more work to be done. The challenge will be to continue our commitment to tackling the structural issues in our communities and continuing our investment inside our organizations.