A couple weeks back I got a pretty interesting email from someone that found these articles, and I’ve got to say that her question was a first for me. This lady was looking for advice on how to find a job as a nanny, working to provide childcare for rich expatriate oil executives! That one really threw me for a loop, but I still took a minute to send her my thoughts. I wrote back that it’s pretty challenging for US citizens to find overseas work in unskilled positions like childcare, seeing as how it’s usually much cheaper to hire one of the local nationals to do the same job. She was pretty quick to reply, and I took away one valuable lesson from the conversation: If you ever want to see someone get steamed up, tell them that the way they earn their living is considered “unskilled labor”!
It probably wasn’t the answer that this woman wanted to hear, but it’s hard to argue with the simple laws of economics. For example, how could it possibly make financial sense to fly someone halfway around the world, then pay them a salary based on an exorbitant Western standard of living, when you could hire someone locally to do the same work for much less? But just in case all this talk about nannies and childcare hasn’t already driven you to hit your browser’s BACK button, let me get to my point:
Most static security positions are going to be classified as unskilled labor!
Yes, any armed position has the potential to be dangerous, and there’s absolutely zero room for error when you’re working a force protection assignment, but the majority of these positions are still going to be viewed as “entry-level.” For you newer applicants that means you’ll be competing against all the other recently separated veterans, a crowd that gets bigger every day. Salaries will go down as the number of qualified applicants goes up, but that’s not the only obstacle you’ll have to overcome. With the prospect of significantly reduced defense spending in the very near future, companies are going to be forced to submit lower bids in order to win contract awards just to stay in business. For a CEO, any strategy for cutting costs is a valid option, and it’d be foolish to pay a contract employee $6000 a month when you could get away with paying them $1000, or in some cases much less!
Sound impossible? It’s happening right now, whenever companies bring on third-country nationals (TCNs) to work as contract employees on their programs. Several hundred bucks a month is a decent wage for a Chilean or a Ugandan, and the use of TCNs offers a lot of other benefits to a defense contractor. Take foreign labor laws, for example. They’re usually a lot more relaxed than those in the United States, so program managers usually have no difficulty when removing or replacing problem employees. On the darker side, there’s also a lot of potential for abuse when using TCNs, since managers know these employees aren’t likely to complain for fear of losing their jobs.
It’s a sticky question when you think about it, whether it’s right to pay someone much less money for doing the same work just on the basis of their citizenship, but for the purposes of this blog I just want you to be aware that “outsourcing” is a very real possibility. With that in mind, here are just a couple of thoughts to consider when planning your job searches:
-Get a security clearance as soon as possible. Positions requiring a clearance are almost always going to be filled by US citizens, and it’s extremely rare that a TCN will ever be granted a clearance. (As an added bonus, having a clearance qualifies you for the highest-paying jobs and makes you a much more attractive candidate for any position.)
-Take on supervisory or management positions as soon as they become available. No matter how many TCNs are brought on for a specific contract, you should remember that someone has to be responsible for supervising them. Also, take a look at some of the work statements posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website. A lot of them will specifically demand that the managerial positions will be filled by US citizens, which is just one more reason to get your college degree.
-Continue increasing your skills in order to land the most demanding jobs. Hiring TCNs to sit in a guard tower or to check ID cards in front of the base PX is one thing, but high-risk duties like working on a PSD team are another matter entirely. Do you think that the US diplomats working in Kabul would feel comfortable being protected by a team of Afghan security guards? Somehow, I doubt it.
Look, one of the best parts about working overseas as a civilian contractor is that you get to meet people from around the world. At worst, the increasing use of TCNs is one more loophole for defense contractors to save money and relax their hiring standards. At best, it’s just one more reminder that you are, in fact, replaceable.
In an industry where short term employment contracts are the rule, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of just looking for the next job. That’s a bad habit that you’ll need to break, and the sooner the better. If you maintain a focus on career development over the long-term then you’re much more likely to ensure your own job security, no matter which country you’re from.