By Rick Bell
Jan. 26, 2015
In the never-ending quest to keep Americans safe, someone has to hire the people who fight terrorism. Meet Patty Scott, senior vice president of human resources and administration for A-T Solutions Inc., a government services provider specializing in counterterrorism and security for the departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the intelligence community; and allied nations. Scott also was honored with HR Strategist of the Year Award by Titan Group and SHRM’s Richmond, Virginia, affiliate. Managing editor Rick Bell caught up with Scott via email.
Workforce: When we’re talking about recruiting people for counterterrorism work, are we talking spies?
Patty Scott: Not exactly, as countering terrorism is a complex undertaking. Although some parts of the work involve the intelligence community, other areas require training, technology, logistics management and many other kinds of services and products support.
WF: So it’s not just James Bond and Maxwell Smart you’re looking for?
Scott: We look for a variety of professionals who can bring experience and knowledge to our team, in the areas of cyber, IT, intelligence, training, operations and more. We look for professionals with niche expertise, particularly in special operations, weapons of mass destruction, forensics and biometrics.
WF: How deep is this talent pool?
Scott: The depth of the talent pool depends on what positions we need to fill. If we’re looking for IT specialists, cyberanalysts, or curriculum developers, the pool is larger than it is for experienced personnel in the more specialized fields of intelligence, customs and border protection, and explosive ordnance disposal and counter-IED [improvised explosive device] training. However, the EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] specialist and training community is close-knit, and as a company founded by a former EOD tech, that community is one we understand, value and depend on.
WF: What are the three leading qualities you look for in a counterterrorism expert?
Scott: First, experience with a specific customer we’re working with is advantageous. Second, candidates who have a wealth of experience and knowledge in a specific discipline are people we are always on the lookout for. Third, and no less important than the other attributes I’ve already mentioned, we look for professionals who want to pursue our mission with passion and integrity.
WF: Do candidates come from all corners of the business spectrum or chiefly military/law enforcement?
Scott: Although nearly three-fourths of our employees are military veterans and many others come from law enforcement, we have a good number of excellent employees who have made their career in the private sector in the areas of intelligence, training, cyber, transportation and maritime security, forensics and more.
WF: Is this an inherently dangerous profession you’re recruiting for?
Scott: Our job is to make the world a safer place. In doing that, there are times when we do have employees in areas of conflict; however, they are always trained and equipped for those situations and embedded with extremely capable military units. Much of the time though, our counterterrorism professionals are here at home in the United States, training and teaching personnel from all branches of the military how to combat terrorists with practical field strategies, IED detection and defeat best practices, and intelligence gathering. Some employees are at secure labs doing forensic investigatory work and biometric analyses to link DNA evidence from specific or unknown persons to a place, activity, device, component, or weapon. Others work at customer sites, providing subject matter expertise and program management support.
WF: How do you recruit talent for overseas assignments?
Scott: There are many people in the job market, primarily from the military, but also from the private sector, who have experience with overseas deployments and want to participate in those missions again. We are involved in several veteran hiring initiatives and attend job fairs throughout the year that target this talent pool, which are always great resources for us. Word of mouth and our strong reputation in the EOD community is also very helpful in recruiting for both domestic and international positions.
WF: What is retention like in this field?
Scott: We’ve found that because our people are aligned with the mission of our customers, they tend to carry out the assignment or contract for its duration, rather than leave before it’s finished. Historically, our retention rates have been higher than industry benchmarks, I think because our work is specialized, and the organization highly values professionals with these unique skills.
WF: What compensation and benefits are counterterrorism experts seeking?
Scott: After 9/11, there was a shortage of people with essential counterterrorism and training skills. Professionals with that experience were in high demand. Now that the drawdown is ongoing, there are more people returning to the private sector workforce with current training and relevant knowledge. They are looking for competitive compensation that values their real-world experience. We try to build our team with opportunities for employment in whatever capacity best fits individuals’ desire for optimum work/life balance. Some of our seasoned, core experts may not work full time or work as consultants, while others desire the stability and benefits of a full-time job. For employees who deploy, there is hazardous duty pay and uplifts associated with those assignments. We are as flexible as possible with work location and work hours, allowing our employees, whenever possible, to be self-directed, collaborative, and independent. We try to facilitate the best possible environment to deliver excellence for our customers.
WF: Talk about being recognized as HR Strategist of the Year. It sounds like quite an honor.
Scott: I am humbled and honored by the recognition. It’s rewarding to have not only my own efforts, but also those of my team, acknowledged. We were able to overcome some tough challenges with human resources strategies that benefited both the company and our employees. As you may know, decreased budgets and sequestration have affected all government contractors in some way, and HR departments must react and plan recruitment efforts accordingly. Specifically, the strategic work we did was in the compensation and benefits area. We were able to maintain competitive rates by updating our benefits and employment categories to create alternatives as needed for pricing and executing new business opportunities. We’re fortunate to have the incredibly capable staff we do now, and we’re always on the lookout for smart, experienced people to join our team and share in our counterterrorism mission.
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