The role of security personnel in a rapidly changing industry

The role of security personnel in a rapidly changing industry

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ISJ Exclusive – April Edition

ISJ hears exclusively from PerpetuityARC Training’s Richard Pendry MLitt, FdA, MSyI.

The concept of guarding in the security industry is as old as the hills. Security officers were known in antiquity by other names such as the sentry or lookout – someone who’s role it is to warn of an impending danger. But, when considering advances in technology, does this most ancient of functions still have a role in today’s security industry?

In its most basic form, guarding, the security industry’s primary role, is the physical presence of an individual at a location to ensure that the location is monitored and that its safety and security stays intact. To ensure this, the security officer has to be alert, aware of their surroundings and, if something does go wrong, have procedures in place to organise an effective response.

The role of the security officer is often customer facing. The security officer is the first person a customer or visitor will encounter when entering a location. Even if they are not employed directly by the business (provided by a third party security company) they are seen as a representative of the company and, as a result, their actions and demeanour facilitate a first impression. But, let me ask you a question – how many times have you passed a security officer that was so engrossed in their mobile phone, that they were totally unaware of you or even of their surroundings?

Cause and effect

The Security Industry Authority (SIA) has 413,000 (as of 2022) frontline license holders that are employed by 10,005 (as of 2020) security companies in the UK. Although I recognise that not all these companies will be involved in the provision of guarding services, the majority will be. The driving reason being that it is an affordable way to provide on-the-ground security with relatively low financial outlay.

Guarding by its very nature is a labour-intensive activity. The business model is not particularly complex: The more you charge, the cheaper you may be able to employ a security officer for and the more money you can make. I have often found that this modus operandi – the grinding down of the hourly rate given to the security officer – is a good indicator on what the client will receive, and that is of course, a poor service.

I didn’t set out to work within the security industry. Like a lot of my peers, I just fell into it and didn’t identify it as viable career path until much later. This was due in part to the poor image in general that the industry has. I applaud the SIA and other professional bodies in their efforts to raise standards, instil professionalism and identify the industry as a viable career path.

But, from someone who consults and trains within the industry, my experience has identified a gaping crevasse of professionalism between the burgeoning companies with household names and the SMEs which are often run by ex-security officers.

Of the 10,005 security companies mentioned above, only 838 (2022) held the Approved Contractors Scheme (ACS) provided by the SIA. That means that potentially only 8% of security companies in the UK have a quality management system – a framework in place that helps ensure consistency and quality in the provision of services to their clients.

Like many sectors at present, the security industry is finding it hard to recruit staff. Recently, I was invited by a local authority to an SIA training event, at the end of which delegates had the opportunity to talk to security companies who were actively recruiting and theoretically walk straight into a job. Of the twenty on the course, only five went for interviews, of which only three were employed. I was told that this was par for SIA courses.

Lack of training

If I had to use just one job description, it would be that of the security manager. It’s the role that I have played for most of my career and it is the job I enjoy the most; in essence, it’s keeping people safe. I learned early on that if I wanted to make a real difference I had to learn my trade, so over three years I did the first of my remote academic courses: A degree in Security & Risk Management.

Since 2005, I have been constantly learning. As one course finishes, I start another one. As a trainer of security management, I owe it to my delegates that they have the latest information and developments. I’m therefore amazed at how many people in management roles within the industry have no formal qualifications that are specific to their job role. And, I can assure you that if the managers are not trained, it is likely that the people under them will have no training either.

I accept that academic pursuit is not for everyone. However, would you employ an accountant that couldn’t show that they were suitably qualified or go to a dentist that hadn’t been trained? No. Of course not.

There are a number of benefits for job specific training: Reducing employee turnover;

reducing layoffs; improving employee engagement; using it as a recruitment tool; increasing productivity; improving team functionality and preventing and addressing skills gaps. But, they will all go a long way to ensuring that the organisation who trains its staff will build a competitive advantage within the market.

So, why then do so many companies fail to train their staff? The answer in most cases is that they simply don’t have the money. Although a budget line for training in many organisations is a given, SMEs working on low margins deliberately driven down to undercut the opposition to win the contract simply don’t have the financial resources. This results in a deflated workforce unsure of objectives, uncertain of what support will be given to them when they need it most.

This sounds a bleak scenario, but in the security guarding sector it is a truth – trust me, I have experienced it. All of this can equate to jaw-droppingly poor service for the end user.

A competitive edge

Let’s not forget that the end user can be a part of the problem. If their main concern is price, then they run the risk of having security officers with little or no training and little or no motivation. So, if you’re a security company who wants to gain market share, or an end user who wants a manned guarding service that can be relied upon, the answer is straight forward enough: Job specific training.

So, does guarding have a role in today’s security industry? In my opinion, yes. But, let’s not forget the security management methodology of personnel, processes and technology. Processes are dependent on the experience of the people who write them. Personnel are only as good as their training. Technology, however, is advancing exponentially – and with its advances, who knows?

Richard Pendry MLitt, FdA, MSyI

As well as being a key Tutor for PerpetuityARC Training, Richard is a CEO of his own company, Pendry Risk Management, founded in 2005. Pendry Risk Management specialises in consultancy services in the form of risk management, crisis management and response, business continuity management and counter terrorism strategies.

Richard served in the Parachute Regiment before entering into private security in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion of 2003. He also has a degree in Security and Risk Management (Leicester) and a Master’s Degree in Terrorism and Political Violence (St Andrews).

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