When you think national security careers, Washington, D.C. is likely the first location that comes to mind. But the intelligence community is bigger than one city (or country). And when it comes to great cities to launch or advance your cleared career, Colorado is high on the list.
The Intelligence and National Security Alliance is putting the focus on Colorado’s intelligence missions with two upcoming events. Tuesday, September 24 Colorado’s defense and intel professionals can attend a classified breakfast session in Colorado Springs focused on Applying AI to the defense mission. In the evening, professionals can get their networking on with a panel on recruiting and developing the cleared workforce in Denver.
When it comes to developing the workforce, while Colorado might not be the first thing you think of when you think of the defense industry and national security – maybe it should be.
“Colorado really is a great place to live, and a great place to be,” said Sharon Romero, senior talent acquisition manager at Ball Aerospace. “I think we have a lot to offer, and a lot of candidates are looking to come here. We recruit nationally, including people who are looking to move to Colorado, and focus on diversity and inclusion in our hiring practices.”
The significance of relocation in a job search is backed up by a recent deep dive into the ClearanceJobs candidate database. 83% of professionals in the ClearanceJobs database listed they were willing to relocate for the right job opportunity. And where did they most want to relocate to? Georgia, Colorado and Hawaii were the top three most requested states for relocation.
“Colorado has a lot to bring to the table – not just in terms of outdoor activities and quality of life, but in the number of leading government facilities,” said Evan Lesser, founder and president of ClearanceJobs.com and the moderator of INSA’s evening panel. “I think most people are aware of the military presence, but the three letter agencies are well represented in Colorado, as well.”
There is an FBI field office as well as the NSA’s Central Security Service cryptologic field office both located in Denver. And when it comes to aerospace employment, Colorado’s opportunities are as big as the Rocky Mountains.
“We’re first in the U.S. for private sector aerospace employment concentration,” noted Romero. “And we’re the second largest aerospace economy in the nation and the third largest location for NASA prime contracts, and have over 500 aerospace companies and suppliers. I could go on and on – it’s a good place to grow your career and get to enjoy everything Colorado has to offer.
When it comes to the hiring challenges in Colorado, they’re largely the same as those felt across the country – a limited talent pool born out of security clearance processing delays and low overall unemployment.
“In our industry, we’re all looking for those same types of engineers and the specialty areas, and they’re very hard to find to begin with,” said Romero. “But then to find them with clearances is even more difficult. One of our biggest challenges is how long it takes, and what we do with them in the meantime. We hire people, and have to find other work for them to do while they wait for their security clearance.”
One critical solution Ball Aerospace has applied toward the talent shortage is levering a successful and highly sought after internship program. Last year Romero brought on 85 interns from 42 different colleges. The internship program allows them to access talent early, introduce them to all of the benefits the company has to offer, and if they’re a good fit, encourage them to stay on with the company after graduation.
Romero notes former interns have gone on to be some of the companies best ambassadors. Student interns return to their colleges and tell their friends about the great hands-on experiences they had at Ball. The students who are onboarded as full-time employees become mentors, reaching out to current interns to show them what it can be like to build and grow a 5, 10, or 20-year career.
“We’re looking for those individuals who can come in and prove themselves here at Ball,” said Romero. “They get great opportunities to do hands on work. They’re looking to find an opportunity here so they can come here as a full time employee when they graduate. And that’s the intent of our program when we bring them in as an intern.”
In addition to internship programs and entry-level talent outreach, work-life balance is critical to successful recruiting in today’s job market. The beauty of Colorado would be wasted if employees weren’t able to take advantage of it. That’s why alternative work schedules and flexible hours are among the benefits offered, so employees can balance work, family and personal responsibilities.
“We have a very supportive culture here and employees are willing to help each other,” said Romero. That includes working together as a team to accomplish professional objectives, but also includes resource and interest groups that allow Ball team members to connect on a more personal level, about everything from travel to bike riding.
The final piece of successfully competing in today’s tight candidate market, Romero noted, is making Ball a difficult place to leave – but an equally welcome place to return to.
“Our culture is so unique here that people may leave because they see an opportunity somewhere else…but then a year or two down the road they want to come back. We have a high return rate of folks who leave and then decide they had a pretty good opportunity here at Ball.”
With candidate poaching the primary strategy for attracting already cleared talent, that ability to welcome back professionals who may have left is key.
“In this market, you have to plan for the possibility that some of your best and brightest will make the decision to leave,” said Lesser. “Talent pipelining helps ensure you have other possibilities waiting in the wings, and that should include some former team members who may have stepped away into a different opportunity. Candidate retention is critical, but company reputation also helps ensure you’re a workplace people want to return to, even if they decide to leave.”