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National Security compensation set a record high in 2023

COMMENTARY | The uptick in cleared compensation is good news for the national security workforce and also a good thing for national security.

With many private sector companies continuing to push for layoffs to appease shareholders, the benefits of supporting national security are starting to shine – and that includes compensation. Cleared candidates reported a 6% increase in total compensation in 2023, according to the results unpacked in the 2024 Security Clearance Compensation Report. The increase drove compensation to a new high of $114,946. It’s a shift we’re calling “the year of the breakthrough” at ClearanceJobs, as we see national security salaries reflecting the market realities of a competitive talent pool and constant need for highly-skilled cleared professionals.

The increase is significant and pushes more cleared careers with compensation averages over the six-figure mark, a feat traditionally reserved for technology professionals. The survey also found that while there is still a pay gap between government employees and their contractor counterparts, that gap is starting to shrink. Government employees reported an average total compensation of $110,071, compared to $118,729 for contractor respondents. 

Gen Z Moves in as Boomers Move Out

In good news for workforce demographics and employment trends, it isn’t just compensation breaking through, it’s also the next generation of cleared talent. Generation Z rose to 7% of respondents, and millennials reigned supreme at 40% of the cleared talent pool. Attracting young people into government careers will be incredibly important as boomers continue to retire. With the average age of a government worker 47, and just 20% of the intelligence community’s workforce under 40, it’s clear there is still a recruiting gap to fill. Fortunately, with recent graduates citing stability as an attractive quality in a future employer, national security work has a strong story to tell.

The other trend that appears to be here to stay is remote work. In 2022, only 46% of respondents said their employer offered remote or hybrid options. In 2023, that figure grew to 57%. More remote and hybrid work options are available, even for those in national security work, and those with some remote or hybrid options also generally earn more on average than those who don’t. 

In an era of market uncertainty in the commercial sector, cleared professionals appear to be ready to embrace the security of the cleared job market. The vast majority of respondents (59%) said they were not likely to leave the cleared industry in the next five years, with just 6% of respondents saying they were very likely to leave. 

Commitment to the Industry, Not the Job

But more workers staying in the cleared industry doesn’t mean fewer job changes in the year to come. Asked about making a change in employers, a full 79% of respondents said they were at least somewhat likely to change jobs in the next year. That trend reflects what we’re seeing across the national security workforce – a huge shift from the days when job hopping was a red flag, and a market reality where frequent job changes are the norm.

It's something the federal government is beginning to realize as well, with renewed pushes for easier on and off ramping between federal and contract employment and easier transfers between agencies. And like all areas involving the federal hiring process, it’s one where the security clearance reform and human capital stars have to align, because security clearance transfer of trust and more seamless reciprocity decisions can help make those shifts a reality. 

The uptick in cleared compensation is good news for the national security workforce and also a good thing for national security. A robust talent pool ensures the U.S. maintains its competitive advantage. And with workers willing to make a move, but interested in staying tied to the unique mission set government offers, a broadening view of what it looks like to serve a career in government is hopefully where our national security hiring efforts are headed. Agencies and organizations that can tout loyalty to mission but not necessarily to a single career track will be in the best position to win talent in today’s competitive – and increasingly high-paying – marketplace. 

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