Trevor Simm and his staff spend their days hunting sometimes-elusive prey: tech workers — particularly with security clearances — who'd like to switch employers.
Simm worked as a technical recruiter before founding OpalStaff, a Millersville information-technology staffing firm, in 2002. He's seeing steady demand these days for software engineers, cybersecurity professionals and other IT workers.
His clients — tech companies, defense contractors, manufacturers — are largely in the Baltimore-Washington area. Some ask for contract employees, and some want permanent hires. Someneed people cleared to work on National Security Agency contracts or other hush-hush federal work.
Simm was a Maryland finalist in Ernst & Young's 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year competition. He chatted with The Baltimore Sun recently about headhunting, the value of a security clearance and how he found himself searching for mechanics on the side.
What has demand for tech workers meant for the workers?
A lot of times, commute is an issue, and we find if somebody lives locally here and they're going to Northern Virginia, it's somewhat of an easy sell to say, "Hey, look, we've got a job here at XYZ. The first thing that's going to change is your commute."
In addition to traditional software engineering, database administrator, and general networking roles, we are seeing heavy hiring of security and virtualization pros. With so many companies moving data to the cloud, expertise in these disciplines is at a premium.
Why is it so hard to find tech workers with clearances?
There's only so many of them, and a lot of times they don't have to advertise. They're able to jump from contract to contract. … So we really have to put the rubber to the road and find the cleared people.
[Getting a clearance] is costly. … We hear numbers from $60 [thousand] to $75,000 to put somebody through the process. … Companies would rather find somebody with the clearance already.
A Java developer might make 20 to 30 percent more just by having a clearance and being able to work in a cleared environment.
Frankly, if you're in the cleared world, you're in. And if you're not, it's kind of hard to start. It's hard to just walk up and knock on the door and say, "I'd really like to get the clearance."
I would have to say that staying up to date with your latest and greatest skill set and knowing the fundamentals is really key [if you aren't cleared]. … It's the fundamentals the companies are looking for to build upon. If you've got the right skill sets … a company working on a federal contract is more apt to put you through that process.
What are you seeing now compared to a few years ago — have government cutbacks pinched hiring? And how did the recession affect your business?
Things are definitely on the uptick. People are definitely hiring — lots of contract hiring.
Maryland and Northern Virginia [are] somewhat insulated in the tech sector because of the high-level clearances. I don't know exactly where they're cutting, but we don't see it here.
[The recession] wasn't a huge drop for us. It was certainly a bit of a retraction, but for the most part, Maryland, D.C., Northern Virginia, … I sometimes feel like we're in a bit of a bubble. It's hard to find talent. Companies are still having to fill their positions and fulfill contracts.
So how do you find talent?
Networking, networking, networking. It's a constant. LinkedIn, job boards, referrals, you name it. And it's a lot of on the phone, face time, social media.
We also have an in-house database that is able to track a lot of where the candidates come from and things like that. The job boards are obviously big, but referrals is up there as well.
It's the constant [challenge] — finding top talent before they jump.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I started a limo company with a bunch of friends in 2002 called Chariots for Hire. We're out of Northern Virginia. … There were six of us that did it. And it's fun. It has its different set of challenges.
I think we have the 38th largest fleet in the United States. … It started with one car, and it has grown exponentially. We have buses — party buses and stuff like that.
I do [recruit for that business] because I have to do it for free. … It's totally different than tech staffing. They always have me looking for mechanics.
Mechanics, they're not putting their resumes on the board. They're not in user groups. They're not on LinkedIn. In the past, I used to walk onto yards of competitors, bus companies, things like that and just talk to people.