I was already a senior level developer when the dot com bubble burst. I came back from a November vacation to find I was the only contractor that still had a job at the dot com I was working for. And that was just till the end of the year since my project manager had convinced the owners they HAD to keep me to finish what I was working on or go under. But I found another job quick after and was doing OK as dot coms started going under. But then just as things were turning around 9/11 happened followed by the Enron mess which killed the job market and triggered massive layoffs. For awhile there I could not get a job even washing cars. The few openings there were did not want to hire someone that would leave as soon as something better came along. I was literally packing up to leave my house and live in a friend’s spare room when I finally got a call for a job almost a year later.
I had just managed to get a bit ahead when the 2008 financial crisis hit leaving me mostly jobless again for a year. Again, I came close to losing my home of 14 years before my network came through with a decent job at the last minute. I think you are starting to see why people like me are a bit more sensitive about job security.
By 2013 things seemed to be going well. I had just managed to pay off the last of maxed out cards and bridge loans from the 2008 recession and had good DOD contractor job. And of course, Ted Cruz shutdown the government for a protest against Obamacare and most of the people I worked with were sent home to frantically search for a new job. Most of them stayed at their new jobs even though that shutdown was only 16 days.
Now as I write this, we are on day 33 of the THIRD #shutdown in LESS THAN A YEAR. Not to mention the threatened shutdowns that were avoided at the last minute. So far, I’m one of the lucky ones still getting paid and this has definitely been one of the best jobs I’ve had. I get contacted by recruiters all the time even though I have not updated my resume in 5 years. I’ve been contacted about jobs making as much as 50% more but I like it here. But with an almost continuous threat of having to scramble yet again to find a new job even I’m having to think about looking again. If I end up leaving you know I will not be taking another federal government related job since it seems no agency is safe from hostage taking these days. Now imagine how those not getting paid and or have a job that they do not love feel.
You might think so what developers are easy to come by. After having done interviews and talking to others that have I can tell you, while I find programming easy, good programmers are still pretty rare, generally making good money with lots of perks and not looking to change jobs. But even if replacement employees were easy to come by there to a couple big factors that will still hurt recovery:
First even low-level people need a security clearance for federal government jobs. We are generally talking 6 months here when the people doing the vetting have a normal load and are fully staffed.
Second is training and getting familiar with the job. Granted training that does not involve access to government systems can generally happen while waiting for clearance most though will need to wait till they have clearance to start.
So for example to replace a programmer that does not have a clearance already (and you can kind of assume they will not) you are looking at 6+ months before they can start looking at the code. Then a few more months before they will be productive enhancing and supporting those apps. Assuming anyone is left on the project that knows the code to tutor them. Remember there are twice as many contractors as regular federal employees and contractors not only do not get paid during a shutdown but do not get back pay either. While Citizant has done a good job protecting their employees, others are already gone. A project in maintenance mode may only have a couple programmers. You do the math. Again the best and brightest will find it easiest to find new jobs so will be the majority of those lost when the pay stops. After all even if you would still do your job if you won the Lotto, most are in that 78% that admit to not being able to afford one missed check much less 2 like in this current shutdown. Which brings up one last point. Even though the government was shutdown for 57 days during the Carter administration, that was 5 shutdowns just over 2 years. The longest was 18 days so there was recovery time between them. Direct employees did not even miss a paycheck. This time we have people that have missed over a month’s pay and in one go. And no end in sight.
If you want to help avoid yet another recession, government turmoil and higher costs contact your representatives, the president and especially Senator Mitch McConnell today. Some links provided below.