washingtonpost.com > Business > Local Business

Searching for Skilled Workers

Randa Newsome never stops recruiting at Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems.
Randa Newsome never stops recruiting at Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 26, 2005

Randa Newsome faced a daunting task when she took charge of recruiting skilled workers for the secretive intelligence division of a major defense contractor 19 months ago: filling 300 open positions.

Over the past year alone, Newsome and her human resources staff of 25 at Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems in Falls Church have hired 500 engineers, analysts and software developers. Yet today, because of expansion and turnover, she still has 300 open positions to fill.

So goes the life of a staffing executive at a Washington area government contracting firm. The region's boom in government contracting work, high housing prices and a shortage of top-secret security clearances have made it increasingly difficult for contractors to find -- and keep -- highly skilled technology professionals. Chief executives in the industry frequently say that the lack of qualified employees is the one factor limiting their companies' ability to grow.

"The biggest human resources, staffing challenge I have ever faced is this one," said Newsome, 40, who has worked in the government contracting industry for half of her life.

Newsome had been running human resources for another division of the company in Dallas when she got a call from the head of Raytheon's Intelligence and Information Systems unit about a year and a half ago, asking her to consider a position in the Washington area.

Newsome recalls being flattered by the offer but concerned about the same things she now hears about from potential job candidates from out of town. "I was worried about whether I was going to be able to make the transitions -- be able to afford a house here," she said. But Newsome took the leap, put an offer on a house during her first day of hunting and quickly enrolled her twin 9-year-olds in Fairfax County Public Schools.

Now her days are spent directing a staff that hunts for new recruits. The company uses all the traditional strategies -- newspapers, Web sites, job fairs -- but Raytheon's recruiters also have tried to meet candidates through informal networking at social and sporting events. And cash incentives are given to current employees if they refer candidates who are eventually hired.

About 80 percent of the 8,000 people who work for Raytheon's intelligence division have a security clearance -- and most of the jobs Newsome is looking to fill require the sought-after credential. "It's a supply issue because we don't have a lot of unclassified work," she said. "And in this region we have a lot of competitors -- and all are looking for the exact same people."

That's why as much of Newsome's time is spent keeping current employees happy so they aren't plucked away as it is looking for new ones. "Every person we retain is one person we don't have to recruit," she said.

The company constantly reviews compensation charts to make sure its salaries are in line with those of competitors, and it regularly interviews employees to make sure they're satisfied with the direction of their careers. Newsome also enlisted project managers to act as unofficial human resources staffers for Raytheon employees who are detailed to work inside federal agencies. Such workers are less connected to the company's culture and more likely to be tempted by job offers from a competitor.

Newsome doesn't see any relief from the tough hiring market but said she takes solace in one fact: Raytheon's weekly new employee orientations always include a few people who come back to the company after leaving for a rival firm.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company