A lot of people are saying that we're in a "jobless" recovery, but that depends entirely what industry you're in. It's true that a lot of white-collar jobs are moving overseas (to India particularly), and that many blue-collar jobs are continuously being replaced by machines, but here in Southern California one industry is gearing up for major work and hiring like crazy: defense contractors.

I consult at two major aerospace companies, and both firms have been running huge job fairs recently, trying to attract engineers and scientists; the situation is the same at many other Southern California defense contractors. I know mediocre engineers and poor scientists who are landing jobs for upwards of $80,000 a year. There's gotta be a catch, right? Well sure, you need to have security clearance, and for much of the defense work around here that means that you have to be an American citizen.

The aerospace/defense industry in Southern California took a major hit in the early 1990s and switched over to civilian operations; then when the recession hit a couple years ago the floor fell through in the civilian sector as well. With the war on terror, however, government work is just starting to pick up, and there's a shortage of qualified people even given Los Angeles' deep technology pool.

Workers go to the companies with work to be done, and it's not uncommon for engineers in Los Angeles to have worked at two or three of the major companies in the area. They get hired for a handful of years, and then when a competitor beats out their company for a big contract they get laid off and hired by the competitor. It's a good situation all around: it keeps workers in the area; keeps salaries and other costs down; and concentrates other valuable resources, such as security clearances.

The process of obtaining a security clearance from the government can cost upwards of $50,000 and take years to complete, so it's understandable that companies looking to hire engineers for defeense work will value workers with clearance very highly. If you want to ensure that you'll have a job for the rest of your life, go get an M.S. or Ph.D. in electrical engineering and then find a company that will sponsor you for clearance. The jobs won't be moving overseas, and I doubt that world peace is going to break out any time soon.



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