Younger faces could make up a greater percentage of the workforce, including those in the security clearance community, in 2016. As the already-cleared population shrinks thanks to downsizing and clearance reductions, cleared employers may need to look to veterans and recent graduates to help fill in the gaps.

Employment of millennials could grow from 35 percent of the workforce to 46 percent by 2020. This demographic already accounts for one in every four managers at companies. In contrast, the average age of a federal worker is 47.3 years. For a workforce with both an aging problem and a demand problem, a potential influx of transitioning veterans could be good news for recruiters.

“Veterans are good candidates because everyone who is getting out of the military knows how valuable a security clearance can be,” said Justin Constantine, a retired marine and industry consultant who works as a liaison between the military and corporate communities. “Vets also have an understanding that the vetting process can take six to nine months and they’ve worked in an environment where paperwork can take time. That patience will pay off for many veterans this year.”

Slower Vetting Process in 2016

A snail’s pace security clearance vetting process is a trend from 2015 that is likely to extend well into 2016. A ClearanceJobs.com survey conducted in the wake of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breach found 77 percent of recruiters and hiring managers say the breach is affecting hiring. Of the respondents, 30 percent called the effect “significant.”

Significant is one word to describe current security clearance processing delays. The average number of days to process the fastest 90 percent of applicants rose steadily from the third quarter of FY 2014 through the second quarter of 2015 (the last period reported). Processing times for Secret investigations increased to 119 days from an average of 72 days, and Top Secret investigations averaged 193 days, up from 133 days.

And while pressure is on OPM to move clearances more quickly, the pressure to improve the quality of investigations is even higher.

“Our current national security climate will definitely play a factor in cleared recruiting,” said Luke Mann, university relations lead at Northrop Grumman Corporation. “There is a lot of focus on our government and the DOD with how they are handling the increased threat levels to the United States of America and our allies.”

Mann added that the OPM breach is in fact only one aspect of what is slowing down the security clearance process. Recent terror threats, greater concern for insider threats, and all of the risks an un-cleared population never even sees or hears about each contributes to delays. And each of those factors contributing to delays also means more demand, particularly for analysts and cyber security specialists.

“The government will be doing their due diligence with vetting folks through the clearance process, but I believe they are going to revamp their process to increase both the numbers that come through and the level of scrutiny applied to each applicant,” said Mann.

More With Less

There will be continued to downsizing of the cleared workforce in 2016, as well, a pattern that is a holdover from last year.

The DOD saw a reduction of some 100,000 positions in the first half of 2015, while the DoD workforce that has access to classified information declined by 12 percent to just 2.2 million. As the number of cleared personnel drops, government contractors expect an uptick in funding and available contracts. Aspirations Software, for instance, reported that after years of budget cuts and sequestration, the federal government has increased funding for critical intelligence community programs, increasing demand for TS SCI cleared candidates.

That demand could circle back to the aforementioned millennial workforce. Both veterans and recent grads could find themselves on the receiving end of those positions.

“The level of experience required would typically dictate if it is filled by a recent graduate or someone with more years of experience,” said Mann.

The expected growth sectors requiring clearance include system engineers and architects, IVV experts, software and apps development, mobile computing experts, software testers and cyber experts. For college students with the right skills, obtaining an internship with a company willing to sponsor a clearance can be a benefit to both the employer and candidate.

“This is a great strategic way to gain a clearance while learning valuable hands-on skills before graduation,” Mann added. “New grads are sometimes able to start work with an interim clearance, which also speeds up the process. The biggest challenge is ensuring that your college life doesn’t interfere with your ability to obtain a security clearance.”

When it comes to in-demand fields, buzz words will likely continue to ring true in 2016 with cloud, enterprise, big data and analytics, and cyber defense continuing to be part of the modern lexicon. The issue for government contractors will be competing with the private sector for this same talent.

Patience Required

The vetting process could be slow and positions tight  – even if some restrictions are lifted to help fill needed positions. If 2016 trends continue, it could be a difficult year for recruiters.

“That of course makes the current cleared talent pool that much more valuable,” said Mann. “My biggest advice to recruiters in the cleared arena is always to keep a very strong network. I believe this to be more important in the cleared arena than any other industry. If you meet someone with a clearance and good skills – even if you can’t place them in your current opening –  you need to keep in touch with them for future needs that may pop up.”

For those seeking employment, the same also rings true.

“You might have to wait for the clearance,” said Constantine. “If it was a quick process, it would be a problem.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.