Last month the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released figures that highlighted the number of minorities working within the intelligence community (IC), and the unclassified report noted that the IC lags still behind both the federal government and overall workforce in terms of diversity. The report did note minorities in the IC are on the rise however; 23.2 percent in fiscal year 2011 to 24.9 percent in fiscal year 2015.

Clapper has called for a more diverse workforce; one that could be helping it unleash creativity and solve today’s difficult challenges. The overall percentage of minorities working in the IC is still far below the 35.3 percent of minorities in the federal workforce, and the 32.5 percent of minorities in the overall workforce.

“This has been a perennial problem for the IC,” said Dr. Ron Sanders, vice president and fellow at Booz Allen Hamilton. “There are all sorts of variables that effect diversity, but it remains a mission imperative. The government needs a workforce that looks like America, but the IC needs a workforce that looks like the rest of the world. This allows us to operate clandestinely anywhere and to better understand where we are operating; and the lack of diversity currently makes that task more difficult.”

The IC is making diversity hiring an imperative for that reason. For the IC, it’s not just about quotas, it’s about missions.

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) continues to seek a more diverse workforce among the 16 agencies in the IC and most agencies have actively updated their recruitment strategies to attract and employ new hires that reflect the level of diversity in the country,” said Dr. Kathleen Hogan, program chair of the Intelligence Management Program at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC).

“Agencies rightly understand that diversity is more than a social or philosophical concept,” Hogan added. “A diverse workforce broadens and deepens the degree of talent, capability, and flexibility of an organization. In a discipline that relies on consideration and reflection of facts, and attention to details, similarities, and dissimilarities, variation in the way that people think and see the world enriches the potential to get the answer right. In an ideal situation, an organization might even harness cognitive skills tailored for a specific problem set.”

An intelligent Course of Study

One solution will be to look to those currently in school.  Millennials – those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, and sometimes denoted by demographers as “Generation Y” – could be crucial as the IC attempts to become more diverse.

Today there are more students in college and universities and this has the potential to create a larger talent pool for potential candidates to fill the needs of the IC.

The question then is whether the students are taking the right courses to obtain those cognitive skills that ODNI seeks today. While a liberal arts degree probably isn’t what the IC is looking at, there are many other studies that could help put today’s youth on the path for a career in intelligence.

“The IC hires from all kinds of degrees,” noted Sanders. “Cyber security jobs are in high demand, and generally STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) are important, but it isn’t just STEM entirely.”

The career opportunities are as diverse as the 16 IC agencies themselves.

“The mission areas range from military intelligence services that provide predictive intelligence and analysis to support operational commanders, to analysts that work for the Department of the Treasury and work to safeguard our own financial system while mitigating economic activities that support illegal activities, to professionals in the law enforcement agencies that combat illegal immigration, human trafficking, and terrorism,” said Hogan. “There is not, therefore, a single ‘right’ educational path.”

“In fact, the agencies draw people from multiple fields that include the social sciences – political science, international relations, history, economics, geography, linguistics, and philosophy, for example – as well as the hard sciences and engineering,” she added.

College alone might not even be the answer in all cases.

“The shortage is likely due to the specialized requirements necessary for positions within the intelligence community and not so much the lack of interest,” explained Iris Alon of the Young Government Leaders. “Keep in mind that the majority of intelligence jobs require actual intelligence experience obtained through the military or law enforcement. This requirement makes it very difficult for someone just out of school and without actual work experience to penetrate.”

Non-College Track

While a college degree is necessary for many positions within the federal government, the IC has begun to look at alternative options when seeking talent.

“There are programs that have expanded the pool well beyond a few select universities,” said Moss. “Agencies such as the NSA have conducted recruiting hacker meet ups, and have sought those with the right computer skills.”

There have even been attempts at more formal programs as well.

“Just recently, the Secretary of Defense concluded a Hack the Pentagon program that offered bounties for ‘vetted specialists’ to find bugs and vulnerabilities in systems and front-facing databases,” said UMUC’s Hogan. “All agencies use computers to access information, from open source information to highly compartmentalized classified information, so people who are conversant with systems and the internet have a clear advantage over others.”

Long Term Career

The final issue with millennials and the IC could be whether the youth of today are willing to sign on for the long term. This has already been a problem with generation X, and will likely be a bigger issue with millennials.

“In the past 30 years few people entering the workforce tended to stick with one employer,” explained Sanders. “As a result the classic CIA analyst or operations officer career patterns have gone out the window. Previously the IC has struggled with those people who want to come back after they no longer had the wander lust.”

While there have been rules that didn’t allow for easy returns, the times are changing said Sanders. “DHS is among the agencies that have coined the phrase ‘passport’ for those who left and seek to come back after working in the private sector. This is really the flexibility we need, and we’ll need more as the millennials fill the roles in the IC.”

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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 You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.