Security Clearance Jobs Bright Spot for Embattled Reservists

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With extended tours of duty, increased responsibility, and greater potential for physical harm, U.S. military reservists are experiencing hardships both on the battlefield and at home.

Everything had changed dramatically. I lost out on multiple opportunities to advance because of my absence. Additionally, I spent nearly four months re-proving my worth to my new supervisor, someone junior to me in the company.

As a "citizen soldier", it seems lately like LCDR David Roberts of the U.S. Navy Reserve has been less "citizen" and more "soldier" than he would like. Skilled in high-level Java software programming and working for a Dallas-based IT services firm, Roberts received sudden call-up orders less than 30 days before his January 2004 re-deployment.

Although supportive, David Roberts’ employer was shocked and concerned with the impact his departure to Kuwait would have on their business. The call-up orders, as stated, were open-ended with a minimum 365 days required away from his job and family.

As his employer scrambled to turn over his existing assignments to co-workers with already full plates, LCDR Roberts prepared to face a 32% pay cut compared to his civilian income. Adding the loss of drill pay made the financial impact even greater.

Many of LCDR Roberts’ fellow sailors faced even tougher situations. Software engineers traditionally earn above-average salaries which make saving for "rainy day" situations a bit easier for people like Roberts. Those junior to him and with less in their savings accounts however, are not as able to easily absorb the impact of a significant pay reduction.

Hardships on companies that employ Reservists are significant as well. Longer tours of duty are leaving critical job positions open for as much as half a year or more, putting both employers and employees in a tough position.

In September 2004, nine months after he left his job, David Roberts returned back to civilian life stateside. Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, an employer is required to return an employee who left for military Reserve or National Guard service to the position they would likely have obtained if they had remained in the work force. While noble in theory, this law does not always work out in practice. Roberts’ employer was no exception, and real issues resulted on his return. Roberts states, "Everything had changed dramatically. I lost out on multiple opportunities to advance because of my absence. Additionally, I spent nearly four months re-proving my worth to my new supervisor, someone junior to me in the company."

Roberts is not alone. Many Reserve Officers who traditionally fill mid-to-upper level management positions in business often find employers have reservations in hiring them – knowing re-deployment could happen at any time. Serving in the Navy for eleven years, Roberts has witnessed the strains on Officers and Senior Enlisted grow tremendously.

Consider the facts:

  •      More than a third of military reservists and National Guard members suffer a cut in pay when they're called to active duty.
  •     In some cases, reservists are given just 12 hours to report for active duty.
  •     Pentagon casualty reports show that the number of deaths among Guard and Reserve forces has been trending upward much of this year, totaling more than 100 since May 1.

The work environment he returned to has prompted LCDR Roberts to start a new civilian job hunt. People in similar situations will find the job market has some good news for military Reservists.

Defense Industry Hiring Boom

While the U.S. economy slowly works its way back to pre-September 11th levels, most segments of the nation’s workforce have experienced higher than average unemployment rates. In contrast, the U.S. defense industry is in a hiring boom, fueled by a record $450 billion budget in FY2005. New defense and homeland security initiatives along with the ongoing war on terrorism have produced a steady flow of multi-million dollar government contracts. These large and sought-after contracts require private sector employers to provide federal agencies with a range of services: information technology, building security, systems engineering, logistics, intelligence analysis, linguistics, and management roles top the list of desired positions. As these contracts are awarded to defense industry employers, hundreds of new jobs become available each week.

This bandwagon is not for everyone to jump on, and the average person need not apply for these new jobs. A primary requirement for careers in the defense industry is a U.S. government-granted security clearance. Want one? According to ClearanceJobs.com, the leading online job board for security-cleared workers, most jobless people do. Especially in cities with a heavy military and defense contractor presence like San Diego, Colorado Springs, Norfolk, and metro Washington, DC where there are more open jobs than cleared talent to fill them.

Getting cleared is not easy. Enterprising individuals cannot simply fill out the necessary paperwork and start applying for these clearance-required positions. Security clearances are awarded only to U.S. citizens who have a ‘need to know’ and access sensitive information regarding national security in their daily work. Each uncleared worker is investigated for a clearance only at the direct request of an authorized government contractor or the U.S. military.

At present time, it can take a civilian up to two years to obtain a security clearance – too long for an employer with open contracts to wait. The time delay and backlog of clearance investigations has prompted the defense industry to look increasingly towards Reservists to fill open clearance-required jobs.

High Demand, Higher Salaries for Security-Cleared Personnel

A recent study by ClearanceJobs.com shows that cleared job seekers earn an average of $10,000 to $20,000 more per year than their non-cleared counterparts. As an example, a Program Manager position in Dayton, Ohio posted on ClearanceJobs.com was paying a range from $96,000 to $110,000 per year. On another job board, a similar but non-cleared position with the same requirements in the Dayton area was paying only $60,000 to $75,000 per year – almost half that of the cleared position. Reserve Officers that have experienced active duty pay cuts may find a career change to the U.S. defense industry the best way to boost their salaries.

ClearanceJobs.com co-founder Rachel Staras explains that the deviation in salaries between cleared and uncleared workers with similar skills and experience is all about supply and demand. "Employers are willing to pay more for a worker with a security clearance already in place. The additional expense is absorbed over the long term as projects can be staffed sooner without the wait."

For Reservists who have the skills, work ethic, and active clearance in place, the U.S. defense industry will continue to be a very "military friendly" employer.

Note: At the request of interviewees, names appearing above may be changed to provide personal privacy.

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