The perfect fit – what makes an ideal tech employee?
As President of the Americas for technology recruitment firm Frank Recruitment Group, Sunny Ackerman is keenly aware of the changing game that is recruitment, and the impact of technology on not only the skills employees must have, but on the process of finding them. Ackerman boasts over two decades of experience in the staffing industry, having worked as VP and General Manager of Manpower North America before moving to Frank Recruitment Group earlier this year.
Frank Recruitment Group enables technology companies to fill niche positions across the world. The group operates across nine brands dedicated to specific technologies across the US, Asia, Europe and Australia. “We’ve established ourselves as a knowledgeable, reliable provider of outstanding talent,” says Ackerman, who puts the company’s success over the past decade down to the fact it provides services for positions clients would otherwise struggle to fill through a different agency.
Now, Ackerman is heading up the UK-born company’s expansion in the US. In 2010, Frank opened up in New York, then San Francisco and finally Philadelphia in 2016. “Our US expansion has really picked up steam since then; last year we set up shop in Dallas, and we’ll be cutting the ribbon on our new Tampa site next month. Our strategy for US expansion is pretty straightforward: go where the talent is. Tampa’s tech workforce has grown massively in the last few years,” Ackerman explains.
This expansion has not been without challenges, but Frank Group is confident about its place in the market. “It’s always challenging to break into a new market, and getting a foothold in a country with a complex mesh of individual markets is a massive undertaking, especially from starting out in a smaller market like the UK. We’ve worked to overcome these obstacles by bringing aboard people who have a lot of experience and a real in-depth appreciation of how business is done in the States.
“It’s always exciting to plant your flag in a new place; a new location represents so many possibilities. Recruitment isn’t always a breeze, but we’re proud to have developed training and support systems that allow us to offer a great path to anyone who has the drive.”
Frank Recruitment Group works across a number of brands, all dedicated to a specific niche and its staffing requirements. “Each niche we work in has a unique culture and community attached to it. The Salesforce Ohana, the Microsoft MVP community… they all have different values and interests. Part of the reason our brands are so successful is they they’re part of their technology’s ecosystem,” says Ackerman. Frank Group maintains visibility at events and support groups to ensure each brand is part of the fabric of its respective community. “We’re constantly finding new ways to contribute to their markets. Without distinct brands, we wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of intimate engagement with these niche channels.”
Nigel Frank, the group’s first brand, began in the UK in 2006 and quickly found that focusing on one particular technology was the answer. In 2006, the firm decided to work exclusively with the then-new Microsoft Dynamics technology. “Nigel Frank developed the right skills to be able to specialize in the Dynamics market, and we came into the world at around the same time as this fantastic technology. We quickly began to see the benefits of committing to do just one thing, really well, and niche technologies became our power base,” Ackerman explains.
“I think the benefit of a niche ecosystem is that you can devote yourself to the technology and the community in a way that you just can’t do if you have your fingers in a lot of pies. All our consultants are dedicated to one technology, and in many cases one geographical area.
“Having a singular focus allows us to develop a deep appreciation of the skills and proficiencies valued both in the community and the wider market. This means we can find talented people and great opportunities that other agencies just don’t have access to.”
Since developing these brands and gaining footholds in new markets, Frank Recruitment Group has been recognized for its own well-recruited and managed workforce, as well as its commitment to diversity. “We’re really proud of the fun, ambitious and inclusive culture we’ve built here,” says Ackerman. Some of Frank Group’s accolades include winning ‘Best and Brightest Companies to Work for San Francisco’ and ‘Best and Brightest Dallas and Fort Worth’ as well as being top listed in 2016 for ‘Best Companies to Work for NYC’.
“I was also thrilled that our Diversity in Dynamics returnship program was recognized by this year’s Women in IT awards in their ‘E-skills Initiative’ category. Supporting the communities we operate in is a big part of what we do, so to have our work supporting new talent and alternative hiring strategies acknowledged was pretty special.”
Skills for the future
In finding the right staff for its clients as well as itself, Frank Group emphasizes that attitudes and ‘soft skills’ are just as important as technical knowhow, if not more so. Ensuring the right fit for both employer and employee is no mean feat, and Ackerman acknowledges it’s important not to get too caught up with immediate targets. “It can be difficult to meet and exceed the needs of both parties, but compromising on delivery at either end is not an option. You need to think about longevity. A good recruiter builds a long-term relationship with both clients and candidates, and to do that you need to earn trust.
“The key is having scope. Though we work in niche markets which are often candidate-scarce, we work hard to stay informed and maintain relationships with candidates and clients so we always have a healthy and varied pipeline of options available. We won’t push a candidate into a role that’s not really what they want – we know there’ll be something better around the corner for them.”
In addition, measuring more than on-paper qualifications is a must since each year more jobs come into play that were not in existence previously. “Being adaptable is massively important for IT professionals today. A commitment to learning new things and keeping your skills up to date is probably the best thing you can do for your IT career. A willingness to grow and embrace change is just as important to employers as a niche set of skills, because you never know when those skills are going to be outmoded.”
It’s especially important to companies nowadays that, with so many skilled candidates to choose from, potential staff show they understand and support a company’s vision. “Today’s professionals are looking for a sense of purpose,” Ackerman explains. “Whether or not they find that purpose depends on how well their values align with those of their employers. On the company side, employee engagement and retention are becoming more important. Hiring managers value employees that can not only do the job, but love the job, and are productive, innovative and long-lasting. You don’t want to have to go back to the drawing board after a year because your talented candidate didn’t gel with your vision, or the rest of your team.”
Technology brings up new challenges in this regard, as personality is one thing that cannot be measured solely from a LinkedIn profile. “In the digital age, it’s easier than ever for clients to find candidates themselves, but much more difficult to qualify those candidates,” Ackerman explains, illustrating that Frank’s key role is helping clients know what qualities they are looking for in the first place, and then identifying them within candidates.
“Digitization of recruitment is only going to continue, so if recruiters want to remain relevant to their clients, they need to be offering real value. This means being experts in their field, knowing where to find candidates that clients can’t reach on their own, and having an eye for potential that will help bridge skills gaps.” Digitization, then, has not negated the need for recruiters, but has made the market more competitive, and agencies should look to niche organizations like Frank Group when learning how to find their feet again in this changing landscape.
Dr Peng Wei: Designing the Future of Autonomous Aircraft
Air traffic is expected to double by 2037. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world will need 37,000+ new passenger and freight aircraft, and more than half a million new pilots—unless we come up with another solution. Right now, a George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science professor, Dr Peng Wei, is starting to research autonomous electric aircraft design.
NASA will fund the research, which will study how to minimise risks for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL). As Airbus states: ‘Autonomous technologies also have the potential to improve air traffic management, enhance sustainability performance and further improve aircraft safety’.
Who is Dr Wei?
An assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Dr Wei has researched aircraft control, optimisation, and AI and ML applications in aviation. Over the next three years, he’ll lead the US$2.5mn NASA grant project in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Austin, and MIT’s Lincoln Lab.
Why is His Research Important?
Even though the wide adoption of self-piloting cars, much less aircraft, is still far down the road, technologies that Dr Wei and his colleagues are researching will form the commercial transport of the future. But aviation manufacturers, in order to produce autonomous aircraft, will have to meet extremely high safety standards.
‘The key challenge for self-piloting capabilities is how the system reacts to unforeseen events’, said Arne Stoschek, Wayfinder Project Executive at Acubed. ‘That’s the big jump from automated to autonomous’. In the air, AI-piloted aircraft will have to manoeuvre around adverse weather conditions, such as wind and storms, and other high-altitude risks, such as GPS hacking, cyberattacks, and aircraft degradation. And the stakes are high.
‘If a machine learning algorithm makes a mistake in Facebook, TikTok, Netflix —that doesn't matter too much because I was just recommended a video or movie I don't like’, Dr Wei said. ‘But if a machine learning algorithm mistake happens in a safety-critical application, such as aviation or in autonomous driving, people may have accidents. There may be fatal results’.
What Are His Other Projects?
In addition to the new NASA research, Dr Wei has been awarded three other grants to pursue AI-piloted aircraft:
- A 2-year grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in conjunction with West Virginia University and Honeywell Aerospace to investigate “learning-based” aviation systems
- A six-month SBIR Phase I NASA award with Intelligent Automation to mitigate airspace congestion at vertiports—the electric craft version of airports.
- A 1-year collaborative grant with the University of Virginia and George Mason University from the Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) to develop anti-cyber attack technologies and aviation video systems
Research like NASA and Dr Wei’s three-year programme will help improve how AI reacts and adapts to challenging air conditions. In coming years, autonomous aircraft will likely take off slowly, starting with small package delivery, then upgraded drones, and finally commercialised aircraft. But congestion issues will worsen until autonomous aircraft are the best alternative.
According to BBC Future, by 2030, commuters will spend nearly 100 hours a year in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic jams, and 43 cities will be home to more than 10 million people. The final verdict? Bring on the AI-operated transit.