Brother, can you spare a new hire?

Competition for new employees to heat up in 2008

The view from the top

Human resource managers grappling in the trenches with a tight labor market for information technology professionals take their marching orders from their corporate leaders. Here's what two top executives say.

Paul Cofoni, president and chief executive officer
of CACI International Inc.:


"The momentum toward intelligence and security services ? which is all about detecting and pre-empting terrorist attacks ? that's where the greatest growth requirement is for us. That is going to be an ever-present requirement going forward. And as we get better at the detecting and pre-empting of terrorism, there is greater demand for the kinds of people who can do this work ? the collection, the analysis, the searching for the needle in a haystack."

Jim Ballard, president of Perot Systems Government Services:

"A dynamic in our industry now is [that] the government has become a much more formidable competitor for talent. They've made changes in the way they acquire folks. They can come to our middle managers, people they may see every day, and take the cream of the crop and bring them into government at equivalent salaries.

Recruiting professionals are predicting 2008 will be another year when massive defense spending will mean fewer procurement dollars for the civilian agencies, and federal contractors will continue to face a highly competitive job market for information technology specialists.

Nevertheless, they say, their companies will continue to pursue lucrative government contracts, so their quest to attract and retain qualified IT workers ? who also have appropriate security clearances ? will continue unabated.

CACI International Inc., Computer Sciences Corp., EDS Corp., General Dynamics Corp., SRA International Inc. and similar companies are reporting fierce competition for new hires.

The labor market "is as tight as it can get," said Kay Curling, acting director of human resources at SRA. "If you have a near-zero unemployment market for the skills we're looking for, you've got to be pretty aggressive [at] finding good people."

Curling said SRA is building relationships with clients, partners and potential employees with the idea that such ties may pay off down the road. "We may not get someone today or tomorrow whom we're interested in," she said. But when circumstances are right, she said, she expects the job prospect to favor SRA.

Election factor

Many companies in the government market are looking to increase the number of their new hires in 2008 compared to 2007, which saw more new hires than 2006.

"The 800-pound gorilla, of course, is the election," Curling said. "No one is willing to venture a guess as to what will happen and what its impact will be on the markets that we serve."

Larry Clifton, vice president of recruiting at CACI, takes a different view. "I don't think it matters if the Democrats or Republicans will win the next election," he said, because CACI's emphasis on defense and homeland security contracts puts the company in a sweet spot. "We're in the right place, the right business, and you're going to see us continue to grow," he said.

According to company statistics, CACI added more than 700 new employees with high-level security clearances just from its four recent acquisitions. "Quarter by quarter over the last fiscal year, we've definitely increased" in numbers, Clifton said. "Probably what I am most impressed about is we have been able to reduce the days [it takes] to fill a position by half."

Varying strategies

EDS has assessed the job market and opted for a micro approach to expanding its numbers, said Chris Spiller, senior human resource business partner. EDS will focus recruiting efforts in 2008 on three specific areas ? health care, homeland security, and biometrics and identity management. "Those are the hot areas that we see where we need to bring in skills or talent," he said. "Those are our growth planks as well that we're focusing in on as a business."

Spiller said he expects EDS employee rolls will grow more rapidly in 2008 than this year. Based on his recently completed labor forecast for 2008, "we're anticipating an addition of head count just within our U.S. government division of anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 employees," he said. "And I know that we're looking at several acquisitions."

EDS has introduced what it calls an accelerated professional development program to hang on to valuable employees. "More and more companies continue to rake or pillage employees away from other companies," Spiller said. The goal of the program is to recognize and advance in-house talent as a way of retaining EDS' best business analysts, program project managers and information analysts.

General Dynamics IT hopes to broaden its base of government clients and not rely so heavily on its DOD work. Tony Sawyers, recruitment manager at General Dynamics IT, said the company has undertaken an aggressive rebranding campaign to make civilian agencies more familiar with its services. As a result, he said, "we are expecting a tremendous growth on that side of the house" in 2008.

It's likely that current federal contracts will trigger new task orders next year, and that will require hiring more IT workers, said Jim Gattuso, director of staffing and recruitment for the North American public sector at Computer Sciences Corp.

"We are projecting growth in head count for 2008," he said. "We are planning on making sure we have the resources in place for more hiring activity during '08."
Fishing in a tight labor pool, government contractors are spreading their nets widely, trawling for new sources of IT workers to meet their 2008 goals.

General Dynamics is interviewing soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with the idea of hiring them. "We're reaching out to that community specifically," Sawyers said.

About six months ago, CACI unveiled an outreach program for disabled veterans. The goal initially was to hire about 10 wounded former service personnel, but the company has surpassed that number, Clifton said. That they came with appropriate security clearances is a plus, he added.

EDS also is growing its employee base with recent college graduates and former military personnel, training them quickly through a combination of online, classroom and Web-based programs. After training, Spiller said, EDS directs them toward the areas of their greatest strengths and places them where the company needs them most.

SRA has stepped up its on-campus recruiting efforts. "It's not just about hiring them," Curling said. "It's about what to do with them when we get them ? making sure they have good opportunities for broad-based assignments, making sure that they spend six months over here and six months over there to give them a good variety of different clients, different skills, and to give them the opportunity to see what's of interest to them."

The clearance logjam

Despite the expected need next year for more IT workers with high-level security clearances, human resources executives agree the government logjam of clearing new hires hasn't improved much this year; nor is it likely to get much better in 2008.

"We can't grow our own [employees] when it still takes 18 months to get a security clearance," Spiller said, adding that he hasn't seen any recent acceleration of the process.

"I don't think that it's easing up much," Curling said, "but I don't think it's any worse." She said SRA tracks the time it takes to hire workers, and the clearance process is still slow. As a result, SRA has a number of potential employees on hold.

"It's something that we live with and work with," she said, "although it certainly slows us down in getting them working directly for our client as quickly as we would like."

CSC is not experiencing major delays in the clearance pipeline because the company understands the process and the time involved, Gattuso said. "We try to build into our resource planning model the fact that it's going to take time and make sure we're not cut short by that," he added. "So instead of letting those time frames work against us, we try to anticipate them."

He said the biggest logjams occur when security clearances are in greatest demand and the number of qualified applicants is limited. Some human resources specialists put the number of those who can qualify for a top-secret or higher clearance as low as 1 percent of otherwise qualified IT professionals.

Associate Editor David Hubler can be reached at dhubler@1105govinfo.com.

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