Navigating the Cleared Engineering Shortage

By: Peter Suciu, ClearanceJobs

Fairfax, VA – 31 July 2018 – The shortage of qualified job applicants in STEM related fields continues. A study from the New American Economy last year showed that there were more than 12 STEM jobs posted for every available STEM worker. The bigger picture tells an even direr situation—there were three million more jobs than the number of available professionals who could potentially fill them.

“This is a serious problem, more so than these numbers are showing,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the New American Economy.

“We need more Americans to study STEM, but the growth is very slow, and we’re not even close to meeting the goal to close this gap,” Robbins told ClearanceJobs.

One of the issues is that nearly every company is a “tech company” noted Robbins. All companies require IT staff and utilize high tech skills in some facet of their operations.

“The other reality is that we’re training many immigrants, who come to America as students, in STEM,” added Robbins. “But many aren’t staying after they are educated.”

The need for IT skills isn’t just in the commercial sector – the military is also seeking cyber operators, and one solution is to increase the cyber degree options at military academies.

The U.S. Naval Academy is increasing its cyber operations majors and its investment in cyber education. Construction continues on the academy’s $106 million cyber security building, Hopper Hall. Named after Grace Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist and U.S. Navy rear admiral, this new building could hold its first classes as early as 2020, and it highlights the importance that cyber warfare training is playing at the Naval Academy.

The recent freshmen class had 110 cyber operations majors, nearly 10 percent of the total class and up from just 22 cyber majors in the graduating class of 2018. The first cyber majors graduated from the academy in 2016, and now all midshipmen are required to take two semesters of cyber studies. This includes a semester in the freshman year and another in the junior year.

The mission of the Center for Cyber Security Studies is to enhance the education of midshipmen in all areas of cyber warfare. The Naval Academy currently partners with the nearby NSA on summer internships for students.


The military’s investment in cybersecurity may one day help the commercial sector, as veterans with cyber skills and a security clearance transition from the military to the civilian community. But that’s a workforce that won’t be available for another five to ten years. What are companies doing to deal with the engineering shortage today?

“The shortage of IT systems engineers, especially those with security clearances, has become an issue of some urgency,” said Mike McKinney, Sevatec Chief Solutions Officer. “The way to solve this challenge right now, to find that next IT generation, is the way most challenging tasks are tackled—changing your perspective and learning from the past.”

IT is one field where the job titles of today are often positions that didn’t even exist just a few years ago. As the defense industry looks to fill these positions, it may benefit from remembering teachability may be one of the greatest attributes for any field, but particularly IT professionals.

“The workforce today, even with continuing shortages, is composed of a large number of IT professionals and systems engineers, many with security clearances, whose job descriptions didn’t exist two decades ago,” McKinney told ClearanceJobs. “Where did they come from? The marketplace is always adapting; for example, during the dot-com boom, we managed to create a substantial number of IT professionals by finding people with time-tested traits: passion and the drive to learn. These personality traits would lead these people to success in any chosen field.”

The solution, said McKinney, is to focus on those people who are driven by curiosity and dedication, and not necessarily in IT.

“Expose more people to the technology field and you’ll be excited to see what you will find,” he added. “You can build a workforce from people with no formal training in STEM. It just takes a shift in perspective and the resolve to execute on it.”

Shifting perspectives can help add to the workforce today, and creating a more robust pipeline of workers—via both military service and formal training—could help provide the workforce of tomorrow.


Good talent is always hard to find but here are some tips for recruiters and HR departments:

1) Referrals

Not all IT pros “hang out” with other IT pros, but the community often knows each other. Get referrals from your existing IT talent and systems engineers. One benefit of this strategy is that you won’t get “bad” referrals when employees understand they could be referring their newest co-worker!

2) Social Networking

Facebook isn’t just for sharing vacation photos. Your company website and social networking platforms all reflect on your employer brand. They can help you find the right person for the job – or send candidates running if what they find is out of date, or if they can’t find you at all.

3) Communicate Your Needs

Why go to the mountain when it can (figuratively) come to you. Make it clear that you are looking to hire. But more importantly, respond to all applicants – even if some don’t fit what you need right now. This will ensure that candidates don’t send their own message to other potential applicants that you’re not likely to respond.

4) Look to In-House Talent

While some positions – such as systems engineers – require a specific skill set that could require training, do you have a go-getter on the team who already holds clearance and could do the job? Sometimes it’s easier to retrain some of your existing staff than it is to make a new hire.

5) Expand Your Candidate Pool

Are you only looking local? The right candidate might not be across town, but could be across the country. For the right job a qualified candidate will readily relocate. Consider what you’re offering in a relocation package, and advertise it to applicants.

6) Conferences and Other Events

Recruiting talent isn’t just posting a job listing and hoping that person will come. Sometimes you do need to go to the mountain that can include conferences, trade shows and other industry events. The right meet-up could be the place to meet that next IT pro or systems engineer.

7) Consider a Veteran

Retired military personnel have discipline and a desire to complete the mission. As noted, the military is expanding its active duty cyber workforce, and that will expand the potential talent pool. Today’s soldiers and sailors could be the special forces of the IT world tomorrow.

8) The Graduating Class

With a robust economy, many college grads can be choosy as they enter the workforce, particularly grads with IT skills. Try reaching out to college students long before graduation day. The right timing may allow you to make the right hire.

9) Groom Your Interns

This goes hand in hand with looking at those still finishing school or training. Did an intern stand out and do more than make copies or run for coffee? If you have/had a go-to intern this summer you might have your best new hire.

10) Don’t be Afraid to Poach

No company wants to lose talent to a competitor, but in business, good talent looks for future opportunities. Is there a number two systems engineer or IT master who wants to move up? Entice that talent to come work for you!