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How companies like John Deere are capitalizing on recent wave of tech layoffs

Tech employee
Posted at 2:48 PM, Mar 01, 2023

The number of layoffs in the tech industry are increasing. More than a quarter million people have been laid off over the course of the last year, according to Layoffs.fyi, a website tracking the industry.

The website says there have been 280,000 layoffs in the tech industry since the start of 2022. However, it appears one company’s loss is another’s gain as companies like John Deere are targeting the newly available employees.

“Folks don’t really coin tech when they think of John Deere, but we love to surprise and delight folks and we’re really serious about our purpose-driven work,” said Johane Domersant, global director of talent supply and diversity at John Deere.

In the fall of 2022, John Deere, headquartered in rural Moline, Illinois, opened a new 36,000-square-foot office in Downtown Chicago to attract recently laid-off tech employees. The office has a large open room that is designed for collaboration. It also features standing desks, complimentary snacks and alcohol: things designed for more traditional tech spaces.

Since the opening of the new office, John Deere says it has hired 98 employees that used to work for companies like Uber, Google, and Meta. The company plans to hire 300 more employees within the next two years.

“I tell people that I work for Deere and they say, ‘Oh, you make tractors and I say [not exactly],” said Crystal T. Jones, head of talent acquisition at John Deere.

Many people might not associate companies like John Deere, a worldwide leader in producing farming equipment, with technology, but the company has been at the forefront of innovative technology.

Within the last year, the company released its new fleet of self-driving tractors. Traditionally, tractors have proved to be a major time suck for farmers as they require more than 500 hours of manual operation during a farming season.

Whether it is planting seeds, tilling the land or harvesting the crop, these large machines, which can cost upward of $650,000, have always been manually operated. In recent years, GPS technology has been incorporated to improve precision, and now, some do not require an operator to be present in the cab at all.

“You need this stuff to stay competitive,” said Steve Pitstick, a generational farmer located near Dekalb, Illinois. “We have machines that share what they’re doing from a work side. So that overlap [in the field] is shared [between machines], so it knows which machine did something so as the next machine comes in, it would shut off based on that work already being done.”

Pitstick said, over the course of a year, the added precision saves him 10% of the money he invests in his fields. His planting machines can differentiate weeds from crops, so pesticides are only sprayed in specific locations. They also plant seeds down to the nanometer, allowing Pitstick to use his land more efficiently.

“When I first started, it was all hands on paying attention driving the tractor,” said Pitstick. “It’s a totally different deal now.”

John Deere notes that the new tech talent it is attracting to produce this new technology is also diverse, broadening how the company innovates.

“[Diversity] was one of our strategies for actually having a Chicago office,” said Jones. “If you have diversity in people, you have diversity in thought, so if I’m coming from a different background whether it’s educational, social, or economic, I’m bringing in a different thought process because of my experiences and my exposure.”