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Tech's Invisible Workforce

March 2016

Tech's Invisible Workforce

A Closer Look at the 'Invisible' Subcontracting Trend in Silicon Valley

Read the full report

Silicon Valley, the heart of the global high-tech industry, is famous for CEOs who offer “workplaces of the future” with lavish pay and benefits: from free food prepared by gourmet chefs, to luxury buses that pick you up at your door, to massages at the on-campus spa.

Missing from the picture is the rest of the workforce: the workers who keep the campuses clean and safe, transport products and equipment, keep the front and the back office running, and all of the other jobs needed to support a software engineer.

While some of these positions are employed directly, an increasing portion are subcontracted — making them invisible in standard estimates of the workforce pay and composition. The tech industry’s supply chain masks its full workforce through the subcontracting of services that, for many other industries, were or still are part of the core workforce.

The goal of this brief is to bring that invisible workforce out of the shadows.

Key Findings

Over the past 24 years, the number of Silicon Valley jobs in subcontracting industries has grown three times as fast as overall Silicon Valley employment.


  • 10% of direct tech employees are Black or Latino.
  • 58% of blue-collar contract industry workers are Black or Latino.
  • Average annual pay for direct tech employees is $113,000.
  • Average annual pay for blue-collar contract industry workers is $19,900.
  • Median annual rent in Santa Clara County is $21,444.


Researchers Chris Benner and Kyle Neering at the University of California Santa Cruz analyzed public and private data to begin to understand the size, demographics, and economics of the sub-contracted service work force of high-tech firms in Silicon Valley. The result is a first cut at data that provide a more complete picture of the technology sector’s economic footprint.

The accompanying white paper released by those researchers provides detailed data on the universe of potentially subcontracted workers and how they compare to direct tech employees.

This fact sheet highlights key findings from that white paper. It also provides additional context on the growth of subcontracting in Silicon Valley.

Read the full report