COVID-19 takes its toll on job market for embedded engineers

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The total number of job postings on ZipRecruiter for embedded engineers has steadily dropped--from a 2020 high of 4,783 in early February to just 3,154 for the first week of April.

Up until just recently, the demand for embedded engineers was practically insatiable. Fueled by the rapid rise in the Internet of Things devices, which are essentially connected embedded devices, autonomous vehicles, and robotics—the need for embedded developers exploded. Qualified candidates had their pick of jobs.

Key skills that embedded developers have are particularly sought-after by many OEMs and tech companies, including fluency in programming languages used to write an operating system, such as C: an understanding of hardware at the component level; and an ability to straddle software and hardware with ease.

That was then, this is now.

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But since mid-March, the number of open positions for hardware, software, and firmware embedded engineers posted on the online job recruitment site ZipRecruiter has declined . In data provided by the company, the total number of embedded positions has steadily dropped--from a 2020 high of 4,783 in early February to just 3,154 for the first week of April.  That number is down 30% from the average number of weekly job postings in February—the strongest month of the quarter.

Ziprecruiter embedded engineer job data

Job postings for positions requiring more experience, such as senior or principal embedded engineer, seem to be holding up better, with decreases in the 20-25% range; Openings for more junior titles like embedded software developer and embedded engineer are virtually off the cliff, with a 35-40% drop. That’s perhaps not surprising, as companies still bringing on staff are likely to be looking for very experienced engineers who can hit the ground running.

Julia Pollak, the labor economist at ZipRecruiter, noted that tech jobs overall have been on the skids since early March, and that the decrease is starting to accelerate.

“As they see their revenues fall or become unpredictable, companies everywhere are looking to cut costs—whether that is by instituting a hiring freeze, furloughing or laying off people, cancelling subscriptions to software or services, not making that big capital investment in technology, or building a new facility,” Pollak explained.

That creates a kind of ripple effect, impacting revenue at the companies providing those services or benefiting from a planned expansion, which in turn causes them to cut costs, triggering further contraction of the labor market.

Even the decline in the number of job postings for embedded engineers may not tell the full extent of the damage. Pollak pointed out that many of the jobs posted in the fourth quarter of last year and currently on the site may no longer be true, open positions.

The more recent the date, of course, the more likely the position is active. ZipRecruiter also is now offering employers the option to promote through a banner on a specific job posting that they have plans to hire for that position during COVID-19.

As to when a robust job market for embedded engineers returns, it’s anyone’s guess. “Hopefully towards the end of the year things will return more to normal, we will see a reopening of business and recruiting will start back up,” said Pollak. “But even then, we may see a lag in hiring as companies wait to develop more confidence that the return of economy is real.”

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