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Security clearance finally cleared up?

Security clearance finally cleared up?

Back in 2002 I kicked off a bit of a debate about the Catch-22 situation regarding jobs that need people with security clearance. It’s a Catch-22 in that you can’t have clearance without the job and you can’t get the job if you haven’t got clearance.

Actually that’s not strictly true. You can work on most secure sites without clearance under supervision. More to the point, there is no reason why you can’t apply for a job simply because you don’t have clearance. That’s actually a bit of an urban myth. Sadly, though, many hiring managers and most if not all agencies take the line that no clearance means there’s no point in applying so don’t waste my time.

What really got me started on this whole issue was being told I couldn’t apply for a role with the MOD. Annoyed because 14 months earlier I’d written the strategic plan that they now wanted implementing. But my clearance had lapsed so I was no longer eligible to apply.

How stupid is that?

This is all a bit of a shame because it means that a lot of good, qualified candidates fall by the wayside at the first hurdle. If high quality candidates actually got to the interview stage, chances are that their lack of clearance would quickly cease to be a problem.

Anyway the argument rumbled on for a while. I put a white paper together that the PCG took forward and we had a significant success when the Cabinet Office, who manages this whole area, published a clarification of how the rules are meant to work. Copies of this clarification went to various key bodies, including REC who passed in on to the agencies.

Guess what? Nothing changed. Gosh…

PCG continued to debate the issue with the Cabinet Office, however, and it became apparent over time that both sides were actually in violent agreement. The rules are clear, unambiguous and entirely reasonable. They even allow for situations where you can only take on a cleared person; that’s about 5% of the jobs mind, so not really a big issue.

In fact we are so much in agreement that we now have a Prime Ministerial Statement on the subject (details can be found on the PCG website) that goes through them all over again, explains in some detail how the whole system works – or, at least, is supposed to work – and emphasises that this is not being done for fun. HMG are very serious about the problems this is causing them. So serious, in fact, that this is the first such statement since 1994.

So it will be interesting to see what, if anything, changes. After eight years of beating this particular drum, I’m not actually that confident we will see any changes at all. The agencies are too risk averse to even think about changing their model, most of the agents themselves are so convinced that you must have clearance that they’ll take no notice and already I’ve seen claims that “it’s not us it’s the clients and we’re only following orders”. Tell me, agencies; doesn’t all your publicity stress that your prime selling point is that you put forward the best candidates for the jobs? Hmmm….

I suspect this particular battle is far from won and we will need to keep up the fight. One day the majority of UK contractors who haven’t got clearance will be allowed to apply for the large number of jobs that require it that are only ever offered to the minority, but that day is a fair way off even now.

Still, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun, would it? To quote someone who presumably understood security quite well, we’ll keep buggering on.

Alan Watts can found found at LinkedIn.
© 2010 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: SNC00161 by Don Solo

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