A new report by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

A new report by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission bemoans the fact that the national cyber workforce shortage is still a major problem. But the commission thinks it’s a problem that can start to be solved with the help of the new national cyber director. And the director will need strategies that address both the federal workforce...

READ MORE

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

A new report by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission bemoans the fact that the national cyber workforce shortage is still a major problem. But the commission thinks it’s a problem that can start to be solved with the help of the new national cyber director. And the director will need strategies that address both the federal workforce and the private sector.   Federal News Network’s Jared Serbu on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin  spoke about it with Tom Downs, head of diversity talent acquisition and the employee referral program at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Interview transcript:

Jared Serbu: And this new cyberspace solarium report really goes out of its way to talk both about the federal cyber workforce and the national cyber workforce. I’m glad to have you here to talk a little bit about how that hiring landscape looks on the tech side and the cyber side, specifically out there in private industry.  How is hiring going right now, especially in this sort of in-demand career area, and in this era of really full employment in the in the private economy?

Tom Downs:  It’s a challenge that everyone was facing.  You may have heard the term or phrase,”  it’s a war for talent”, and even more, with tech and or cyber.  We’re looking at data from different articles periodicals. when have you in regards to upwards of 600,000, open cybersecurity jobs are empty. And what can we do, as an employer is one, navigate that landscape to get folks into our candidate pipelines for consideration for hire, and of course, across the finish line, to that hire state, to new employees  supporting our initiatives and contracts that we’re executing across the globe. So, I think it’s a challenge.  I mentioned a few different times and some other conversations that we’re looking at this as a buy- borrow-build, kind of methodology or strategy. And, the build part of the pipeline is something that we’re trying to get much stronger on, by creating that talent pipeline for folks that are either upskilling and reskilling into a tech/cyber career as a way that we can try to solve for this or attempting to solve for this by way of, there’s just not enough folks that are either skilled currently, or available currently to fill all these vacancies. So building that pipeline, that’s a demand now in future way that we can solve for that.

Jared Serbu: And since you do work so closely with government customers, so much of the time, I wonder how much of that borrow element is really just circulating people back and forth between agencies and your company, maybe maybe even other companies?

Tom Downs: Some terms you might hear in the industry is a boomerang employee or come back kid. Some folks will leave. We typically  call it the three C’s: culture, commute or compensation. The commute is pretty much off the table anymore, unless you’re in some kind of a SCIF environment or some kind of closed-door job. But culture and compensation are the big things, why people are leaving current employers. That next employer is just making sure that you can solve compensation in some degree, but you’re also limited by the way of the contract that you’re on, or they know that your price points as far as you know, you can’t price yourself out of an opportunity to engage with a customer. So you got to be mindful of that. But another way to solve that, of course, is culture. Back to that three C model again, is making sure that it’s great to have a fantastic recruiting process. But once they integrate and onboard onto your company, you got to make sure you’re keeping them there, so outside of barricade in that back doors, no one can leave, you got to make sure that the culture is embracing inclusive. And that’s with a big DNI focus now across the US and further is making sure that once they cross that finish line and become a new hire employee integration is critical. Be it learning development,  inclusion, engagement, belonging. It all  needs to be a part of the process and make sure those folks are indeed staying with you. And  doing everything you can within control limits to keep them here for the future.

Jared Serbu: One aspect of the culture piece that comes to mind, and it’s a hot topic lately is just workplace flexibility, which seems to be especially important lately in the tech sector among tech focused employees. How big a deal has that turned out to be for you in terms of having a culture that keeps people around?

Tom Downs: The remote or opportunity to work from home via some kind of a flex schedule, or X number of hours, you can be remote or what have you. That’s definitely part of the process. Now, even on our own job board right now, we’ve identified roles that we tagged them as remote or a percentage of remote capability. So it’s easier to search as a candidate. So you know that upfront as to if that job is indeed a remote capability or not. Another part of that is during the recruiting process and having the conversations be with those candidates, the recruiter, the hiring team, the hiring manager, and just making sure that the recruiter knows upfront how much flexibility is that going to have for that particular role? Once again, some of those are going to be very limited by way of if they’re in a SCIF environment or some kind of  job or employer be at a contract where they must be inside of a secure facility. Of course, you’ve got someone there because I can’t can’t SCIF out your bedroom at your house. But there’s just ways that a lot of these jobs do have flexibility. We’ve all navigated that for the past two-plus years with a pandemic, and we’ve proven that we can still be successful and get the mission done.

Jared Serbu: And I know one area where Booz Allen has focused specifically in your recruiting is veterans. Talk a little bit about your efforts there and why that’s such a focus area for you.

Tom Downs: A long-standing partner with a group called Hiring Our Heroes. it’s the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s key partner nationally in regards to outreach, engagement recruitment for both veterans and military spouses. We’ve been a partner with them since 2014. Our hiring initiatives basically, about 33- 34% of our annual hires are a veteran or military spouse. So what basically one out of three people coming through the door is a veteran, mil spouse, so we’re very proud of that. We’re a veteran-founded company, it’s even more so there, but it’s just something that we are very targeted specific on as far as our outreach and engagement is to touch that military population, and make sure as they’re transitioning to be out of service into a new career, after 20 years, or after two or three years, there’s an opportunity there. The numbers show that right around 200,000 veterans that get out of the military every year to include families, so we got to make sure that’s a huge candidate population that needs to be engaged with. So we have a targeted team right now that consists of five individuals that are all recruiters as 100% of their their sole focus is outreach and engagement and recruitment of veterans and military spouses.

Jared Serbu: And when you’re looking at this tech workforce that we’ve been talking about, specifically, so far, in this conversation,  do you go after people who have had tech experience in the military specifically? Or are there just generic characteristics of veterans that are attractive to Booz Allen?

Tom Downs: A little bit of both. Sometimes you will have that square peg-square hole match for that transition, and a veteran or spouse that will fit right into a job. Oftentimes, you won’t though. Say you’re looking at, let’s look at the army, for example, you might have a transition infantryman, they may not have that tech experience or tech background. So back to this, bu- borrow-build methodology for talent acquisition, we’ve established a pipeline of talent called milltek. So we have an external-facing web page for transitioning veterans to kind of give them the breadcrumbs and a roadmap to upskill and rescale, into tech pipelines, by way of doing some free programming that’s available from vendors across the United States to get those certifications. And also, we give them kind of a drip campaign of information, like, hey, you need to be doing this at this phase, this is the next phase, this is the next phase, etc. And then once they hit phase three of that training pipeline, they then reach back out to my military recruiting team. And that’s when we have a conversation about upskilling them into an opportunity for actual employment, when they get the certifications. Now we’ve got the experience,  the accountability and responsibility of that great population. They’ve got the certs. Now, it’s just a matter of getting them into an opportunity to shine. And  more than likely they do. We’ve had phenomenal success with our milltek pipeline. And that upskilling. Another program we have internally is called tech excellence. So we’re using that internally for both folks that are wanting to upskill and reskill that are current employees, and also we do feed veterans and military spouses into that same pipeline for upscaling and reskilling into a tech job.

Jared Serbu: That’s interesting. Just to make sure I’ve got the sequencing right on that. So you’re actually getting them started on training before they’re really even a job candidate for you?

Tom Downs: Correct. And the good part about that is that roadmap, there’s tons of organizations that are offering veterans and spouse and military spouses an opportunity to get these certifications for free. You know, the investment, of course, is time. That’s just the next thing. They have to work to get those certs. But on top of that, once they get those certifications, there’s no or low cost, and it might be their GI Bill, perhaps if there is some kind of a cost incurred, but more than likely not, it’s free. So they just, you know, show their DD 214 or their transition documents they can get from their command. But they’re going to be going through this transition date, dates and times and then they get in these in these schools for free. And then once they graduate, they let us know they’ve graduated, they’re at a certain level and now we can engage with them for hiring opportunities.

Jared Serbu: That’s Tom Downs, the head of diversity talent acquisition and the employee referral program at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Related Stories