Farm Equip Mfrs. Hope to Lure Silicon Valley Tech Workers
Big agricultural and construction equipment manufacturers in the American Midwest are on a mission to lure Silicon Valley tech workers who have been caught up in a wave of hiring freezes and layoffs.
Mass layoffs at major tech firms have opened the talent pipeline for Illinois-based Deere & Co. and rivals who are eager to add tech workers to their payrolls as they expand into autonomous tractors, mining trucks, and other smart farming technology.
With an abundance of job openings, the companies are offering remote work arrangements and opening new offices in major cities like Austin and Chicago, a potentially attractive draw for workers who don’t want to move to smaller Midwestern cities, where many of the companies are based.
The executives said the newly available tech talent could inject much-needed expertise into farm equipment manufacturing, helping to transform the industry through the use of more artificial intelligence and automation.
Historically, it has been difficult for construction and agriculture equipment manufacturers to compete with Silicon Valley compensation packages, Scott Wine, chief executive of CNH Industrial CNHI, an American-Italian machinery maker, said in an interview.
“They were sucking so much oxygen out of the air because of their significant budgets,” Wine said. “Now, they’re not hiring and they’re firing – so it just means we’re getting a much larger pool of potential candidates that we can call upon.”
CNH hired more than 350 engineers last year, some of whom came from Amazon.com and Microsoft Corp, Wine said. CNH expects to spend more than $1.4 billion in research and development as the company scales precision agriculture offerings in 2023, he added.
The combine harvester producer has increased its focus on agriculture in recent years to meet farmers’ equipment demand, stacking its tech workforce with highly skilled workers in automation and artificial intelligence.
Deere’s main rival, Irving, Texas-based Caterpillar Inc. CAT, is also making a big push to recruit tech talent. New hires in machine learning, computer science, and software engineering were up 30% in 2022 from the previous year, Karl Weiss, chief technology officer at Caterpillar, said in an interview.
The manufacturer has invested in digital products to improve construction safety using artificial intelligence. It had roughly 500 open tech jobs in December 2022 and it is looking to fill roles with the outflow of laid-off tech workers, Weiss said.
“The layoffs in the tech community have not been lost on us. We’re actively talking to those employees,” he said.
TECH TALENT PURGE
Thousands of workers have left or been laid off from tech giants Amazon, Microsoft and others during the biggest purge of tech talent since the dot-com crash of the late 1990s.
Large tech companies shed more than 150,000 workers in 2022, according to tracking site Layoffs.fyi. During the COVID-19 pandemic, big tech firms hired aggressively to capitalize on advertising dollars as lockdowns prompted a surge in social media use and online purchases.
Layoffs at West Coast-based technology companies have coincided with Deere and CNH boosting investment in artificial intelligence and precision agriculture products, such as automated fertilizer applicators, that they hope to sell to farmers who are trying to boost food production at a time of global shortages.
While the availability of tech workers is plentiful now, industry experts say the hiring window is short for companies to reel in tech workers who also have opportunities at startups.
The goal is to offer prospective employees the best of both worlds: work from home or come to a city office that more closely resembles a Silicon Valley tech campus.
Deere has its global headquarters in the small city of Moline, about 165 miles west of Chicago, but opening a tech hub in Chicago’s trendy West Loop neighborhood last year has helped it be more visible to prospective job candidates who want to live in metro areas.
In an acknowledgement that not all tech workers want to relocate to the Midwest, Deere is also hiring employees in Austin, Texas, where it opened an “Innovation Hub” in 2022 and in San Francisco, where it has had an office since 2017, said Johane Domersant, global director of talent at Deere.
Previously, Deere would have required new employees to relocate to the Midwest, likely to Iowa or Moline.
“We are going to go where the talent is and that is a different strategic bent that we wouldn’t have done in the past,” Domersant said.