Help wanted: People with passion for national security

By Michael Padilla

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Integrated Security Solutions close to meeting staffing goals

new-hires tour California campus
TOUR DE FORCE — Sandia new-hire success champion Mike Oberti, right, leads a group of new employees as they walk to Building 911, where telemetry work is conducted.  (Photo by Dino Vournas)

Interesting and fun. That is how Jennifer Clark, senior manager of the telemetry and handling gear engineering group, describes the work conducted at Sandia/California when recruiting prospective Sandia engineers.

“During interviews, we highlight the work-life balance at Sandia, as well as the national security impacts of the job,” Jennifer said. “We also emphasize that we consider our specific work to be really interesting and fun.”

Jennifer is the Integrated Security Solutions director designee for electrical and mechanical lab and division-wide hiring teams. Jennifer is responsible for ensuring that staffing needs are met throughout the division. She, along with Mike Oberti, who serves as the new-hire success champion, works closely with Sandia recruiters, hiring managers and human resources.

Mike said his primary goal as the new hire success champion for Integrated Security Solutions is to help implement processes where new-hires can feel welcome to reach out with questions and ideas to help make their integration into Sandia as smooth as possible. He currently is assisting nearly 200 new hires and employees without security clearances.

“I view this role as the catalyst to enable positive systematic change by creating relationships and partnering with people that will enable sustainable and empathic solutions,” Mike said. “Our vision is to empower a community of Sandians that fosters a sense of belonging, enabling each person to reach their highest potential.”

Mike said he is grateful that he works with an extraordinary group of people.

“I want to make sure that new hires have the best experience possible to provide exceptional service in the national interest,” Mike said, adding that he is using a systems engineering approach to develop holistic, empathic solutions to create a great experience and a sense of belonging for new hires.

On track to meet hiring goals

Associate Labs Director Andy McIlroy said the division is on track to meet its projected hiring goals for fiscal year 2019. The division is at 98% of the hiring target. As of Aug. 8, there are 278 non-student new hires for the fiscal year, including 32 with future start dates.

“People are our greatest resource,” Andy said, adding that hiring the best people helps ensure that we meet all of our goals. “We are fortunate that we have such a dedicated workforce in California and New Mexico.” He said he is very optimistic for the upcoming fiscal year and is grateful for all the hard work to fulfill the division’s staffing needs.

“It truly takes an army of people to hire new team members,” he added. “Everyone has really stepped up in helping out with all the hiring throughout the year.”

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“Bringing people into the Labs is everyone’s business,” said Traci Ryan, a human resources manager for Sandia/California. “Whether you are part of an interview panel or volunteer as a buddy for a new hire, everyone plays a role. We are all invested in the success of the division.”

Traci noted that the Integrated Security Solutions talent acquisition team model has shifted in the past couple years to meet the division’s increased hiring needs. This shift includes centers having designated staffing partners and the addition of recruiters that source hard to find candidates.

“We realize it’s a war for talent and have continued the practice of candidate briefings to create a high touch candidate experience,” Traci said. “With the W80-4 and W87-1 as two of the biggest drivers for hiring needs, conversations with candidates focusing on Sandia’s employee value proposition, which includes mission, work, people and culture, is key. Overall, we want folks to know Sandia is a great place to work.”

Developing a rhythm for hiring

“We have developed a really good rhythm for how we deal with our postings, review resumes and set up and conduct interviews,” Jennifer said, adding that Integrated Security Solutions, in conjunction with a corporate-level hiring initiative, has created a working group. The group makes specific corporate and division-specific job postings.

group of people talks in conference room
CYBER TALK — Clockwise from bottom left, Cyber systems research manager Donna Djordjevich-Reyna talks to recent Sandia hires Michael Symonds, Sophie Quynn, Michael Carson and Chris Harrell.  (Photo by Michael Padilla)

The working group has access to an expanded set of resumes, and whenever any member of the group brings in a candidate, the entire working group is notified and invited to participate. This gives hiring managers access to more job applicants and exposes the interview candidate to a broader introduction to Sandia/California and the different types of work at the site. The result is a better alignment between candidates’ desires and hiring managers’ needs.

Energy and earth systems director Carol Adkins said the jobs that Sandia offers candidates in the energy program is challenging work on the nation’s hardest problems, and offers the opportunity to work with experts, both internal to Sandia and internationally, across all energy fields.

Carol said hiring for New Mexico has its own challenges — different from California, but not easier — adding that there is often a struggle hiring for the Carlsbad, New Mexico, work supporting the Waste Isolation Pilot Project.

“Southeastern New Mexico is lovely, but somewhat isolated,” Carol said. “It’s also an oil and gas boomtown. New Mexico is also a lovely place to live.”

For the work supporting Sandia’s energy program, staffing specialist Jodi Butler has taken additional steps to recruit electrical engineers with power systems expertise. That field is “hot” right now, due to the focus on energy and the nation’s grid. Jodi said staffing specialists use advertising, university contacts, recruiting tools and other resources that are specifically brought up when strategizing about individual postings in order to meet year-end goals.

Jeff Gebel, acting energy and homeland security director, credits the strong efforts of both Sandia recruiters from the line and targeted recruiters within human resources. 

“The division has benefited greatly from the HR targeted recruiters, as they have been able to find experienced candidates with critical skills, all while taking a lot of the initial burden off of the managers,” Jeff said. “A few years ago, HR started pairing targeted recruiters with some of our hardest to fill positions. It’s been a great success overall.”   

Maintaining a healthy pipeline, diversifying the candidate pool

Enterprise cybersecurity manager Gio Kao’s key recruiting message — in addition to emphasizing Sandia’s national security mission — is Sandia’s commitment to a great work-life balance.

“We offer a very flexible work schedule,” he said. “The 9/80 and 4/10 schedules are well received.”

Gio knows the challenges faced when recruiting new employees.

“Cybersecurity is one of the fastest changing fields in government and industry,” he said. “We are in a very competitive job market, and we need to be creative in recruiting and retaining top talents. Our goal is to maintain a healthy pipeline and diversify our candidate pool.”

New recruiting ideas have been working well for Gio and his team when searching for candidates for Sandia/California’s Center for Cyber Defenders internship program.

In the past year, Gio’s group has implemented on-campus recruitment strategies for candidates that are historically more difficult to recruit, such as women and minorities.

“We have participated in various local and national events organized by the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Cybersecurity and National Society for Black Engineers,” he said.

Sandia representatives also reach out to cyber and computer science focused student organizations, such as the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program.

Gio advises recruiters and other Sandia managers to start early in the recruiting season and to stay in touch with potential candidates even if graduation is a few years away. He said that it’s important to build relationships and establish research partnerships with professors who may recommend students to Sandia positions. Above all else, he stresses that managers should make job offers quickly to potential employees.