Security Clearance – What's it worth to you?

Demand continues to grow for contractors to work on security-cleared sites. Not only driven by pressure for increased security, demand is also from organisations that previously have not required clearance, but now expect Basic Check (BC) as a minimum and Counter Terrorism Check (CTC) or Security Check (SC) to work on sensitive projects. But what are the benefits? And is it worth it?

Yes, it's true that contractors who have existing clearance enjoy improved access to opportunities within security-cleared sites. However, clearance does not necessarily guarantee good rates and long contracts. The start of major projects can drive up salary rates for security-cleared contractors in the short term, but over a longer period they are comparable with non-cleared roles. In this small market space, contractors who under-perform do not have the luxury of an endless pool of companies, regardless of their clearance status.

So what does it take to gain security clearance? Essentially you must have a sponsor; this would be from an organisation that requires your skills and is willing to invest time and resources to gain security clearance, and accepts the risk associated with processing your clearance. Specific details on what your sponsor must do, what the guidelines are, and FAQs can be found on the MOD/DVA website, in the Defence Vetting Agency section.

So if you don't have security clearance, how easy is it to get a sponsor? Consider a hiring manager's position. By its nature, the contract market is driven by the need for specialist skills now. The risk to a project's success could be high if contract offers are made to candidates without clearance. It could mean a 3 month wait for the new hires, or in the worst case scenario, where clearance is denied, restarting the entire recruitment process.

This 'chicken and egg' situation when it comes to obtaining clearance can lead to understandable frustration for contractors. But you shouldn't be deterred from applying for 'security cleared' contracts. Companies will sponsor candidates when the need arises. Taking a contract that only requires a BC, which takes circa 2 weeks to obtain, can be a good way to enter the market. A company may be more inclined to sponsor you as a known entity with a proven track record for delivery.

Once you receive clearance it is essential that you keep a record of the details: date cleared, holding department and contact details, expiry date and level. You can't always rely on your current sponsor to have the information readily available. When you start a new contract, contact the security officer to ensure they have transferred your clearance. This is essential, for once clearance is granted you will need to keep continuity or it will expire, regardless of the original term of clearance.

Security clearance can be a frustrating issue for candidates and hiring managers alike. If you've decided enter the market, make sure you're getting good advice.

Your recruitment consultant should advise you if a role requires clearance and how that will affect your chances of progressing to interview. You should also be made aware of the potential timescales involved should an organisation be prepared to sponsor you. Your consultant should be someone who can provide an educated assessment from the outset, by understanding the market and client needs. They will thus save you time and effort chasing roles that are geared towards candidates with existing clearance, but also be able to identify the opportunities to enter this tricky market when they arise.

Article by Simon Shobrook, Senior Consultant, Public Sector IT, Hudson

Further Reading:

Recruiters under fire over security clearance

IT recruiters defiant over security clearance

IT contractor petitions No10 on security clearance

Security Cleared Jobs

What is security clearance?