Recruiting for highly-cleared professionals has always been a challenge. Even in situations where it is possible to sponsor a new clearance for a qualified candidate, the elongated time frame makes it difficult to ensure the candidate is still available if and when the clearance is fully adjudicated. Without a constant influx of newly cleared, highly skilled candidates the talent pool becomes essentially finite. In the best of times for candidates that led to steady job-hopping, with each new position being assured of having a higher salary than the last. As agency budgets contract and pressure increases to push down budgets, however, salaries for cleared personnel are actually starting to recede.
Though there are less jobs and lower salaries, Federal agencies have in fact continued to increase the requirement levels for contractor staff. It's laudable in the sense that it paves the way for these agencies to get better personnel at a lower cost, but there has been no ancillary adjustment in the clearance model. The same finite talent pool will be squeezed to be more productive at a lower level of compensation. The glaring absence of a central clearance agency able to process clearances across the board adds another layer of difficulty; there are multiple parallel clearance ladders unique to specific agencies. While some clearances cross fairly easily from one agency to another, some do not.
Our challenge as recruiters in this space remains to find candidates at least as skilled and experienced as their counterparts in the private sector (if not more so), with particular experience specific to the classified arena, and the clearances that only a relative handful of candidates possess. We must do all of this while lowering rates to the government to remain relevant in a hyper-competitive marketplace. More with less-great for the consumer, difficult for the provider.
Given these factors it is imperative for companies in the cleared realm to redefine compensation to include a broader range of related benefits to attract and retain top talent. It's going to take a concerted effort to engage candidates in all facets of a company's culture. Employees are going to become partners in their companies success at a much higher level than previously; some Federal contracting firms are ahead of the curve already, offering innovative incentive plans that drive new business and expand the profit/compensation pool. That shared sacrifice/reward model seems the only effective way to move forward. Private industry has long been at the forefront of these shifts in staffing approach; if anyone in the government space hasn't started down the path now's the time, because it's not going to get any easier in our world any time soon.