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Pathways for progression

by Brian Sims

Professional benchmarks for certain security roles are not always readily available on the wider scale. This can create barriers to progression for employees and, in doing so, continues to hinder efforts targeted at both altering external perceptions of the security business sector and pushing the discipline further up Boardroom agendas. Gemma Quirke puts forward proposals for changing the status quo

The challenge of ‘professionalising’ the security sector is one which is continuously discussed (‘Professionalising ‘Security’: Working towards a change in perception’, Risk UK, August 2014, pp50-51) in tandem with the necessity for in-depth training and ongoing skills development.

Arguably, there’s also a wider requirement to focus on providing clarity for security professionals in terms of the career paths open to them and the benefits to be derived as a result of investing their precious time in the sphere of professional development. In turn, might such a focus also contribute to achieving all-round professional recognition for the security business sector while encouraging others to make it a career of choice?

By definition, to ‘professionalise’ is to identify the qualities demanded of any business practitioner and then provide a clear direction of the relevant training and qualifications which may be undertaken to achieve a professional status.

In the security business sector, the opportunity to become a Chartered Security Professional is now available (‘Chartered Security Professionals: The Gold Standard’, Risk UK, August 2014, p17).

However, even with this prestigious goal as an ultimate aim, benchmarks for lower level through to mid-level roles which individuals both experienced and new to the industry might strive to meet – and exceed – are not necessarily as widely available.

As a direct consequence, this not only creates what can be seen as a barrier to professional progression for security officers and managers but, in doing so, continues to hinder the efforts aimed at changing external industry perceptions and pushing security further up the Boardroom agenda.

Aspiring to Excellence: key findings

The Security Research Initiative has just published its latest report. ‘Aspiring to Excellence’ outlines the challenge of both defining and achieving exemplary service, and is based around an extensive review of the drivers for business excellence. Both corporate security personnel and 200 representatives of security suppliers rate various characteristics of outstanding performance.

Two key characteristics consistently noted in this report are ‘People’ and ‘Leadership’, both often used by clients and suppliers alike as a means of measuring current performance.

Suppliers questioned use the pages of ‘Aspiring to Excellence’ to highlight that quality, motivation and training of staff are front and centre in terms of what constitutes ‘Excellence’, while clients focus on the balance of having both business and security expertise.

Clients also pinpoint an opportunity for security suppliers to become better at displaying how the function delivers value for host businesses.

The importance of enhanced Board-level recognition of security as a business enabler is flagged by both clients and security solutions providers alike.

Defining and achieving ‘Excellence’

With the security sector as a whole and, specifically, suppliers and clients in apparent agreement that professional recognition would be beneficial, and that there’s a requirement to better display how value is added, how might we best combine our knowledge to define and achieve excellence within?

In order to drive the security business sector as a whole towards professional status, it’s fair to suggest that a considerable restructuring may be necessary. Various industry bodies are already making positive step changes.

However, the lack of cohesion between groups could be seen as limiting in relation to the end goal. While the intent and effort may be universal, agreement on defined career paths – and how best to implement and support them – is often individually focused.

Collaboration across such major groups could genuinely ‘revolutionise’ the sector, developing those already on their career path as well as attracting new talent and training the security leaders of tomorrow.

Within the security business sector’s supplier organisations, we all deliver hard and soft skills training for both officers and managers. However, as such training is often conducted without an underpinning and clear career guide that matches these skills against industry progression routes, the options available in terms of ‘next steps’ from being a front line security officer to becoming a leader of the future may seem somewhat blurred.

As a result, this could lead to confusion as to what it is that security officers and managers should and could be striving for in their career roles, and how they might actively use training to help further individual development.

The pool of talent within the security sector has traditionally fallen within two factions – those who deploy their skills and practical expertise on the day-to-day management of sites and those who follow the contract management route with a determined focus on business acumen and commerciality.

In truth, it’s in the combination of both skill sets that the key to better client service lies. As such, any progression path should build upon and combine both knowledge bases. A system of formal and recognised cross-department mentoring might be one way of providing site-based specialists with an introduction to business transactions or affording contract staff practical insight of operations. Such a set-up could also help service leavers progress their specific security sector knowledge.

Further thought must also be given to a graduate apprenticeship programme specifically designed to attract new talent and afford career opportunities for new graduates. Skills for Security’s apprenticeship scheme for the security systems sector has created a route for 16-18 year olds to join the sector by way of employment in a skilled role offering on-the-job practical training. There’s also an opportunity to continue learning and gain relevant qualifications enabling apprentices to progress within the specifically defined security systems sector career pathway.

Gemma Quirke

Gemma Quirke

Put simply, this is a tremendous example of what could be developed for wider areas within the industry and something that absolutely would be welcomed across other areas of operational security.

An apprenticeship programme will offer a clear road map to graduates, in turn helping to fill skills shortages in the security sector while at the same time making sure graduates develop the vocational acumen they need in order to function well in the jobs available.

In a recent study conducted by the National Apprenticeship Service it was discovered that 76% of businesses questioned who employ a graduate state those same graduates make their organisation more productive, while 77% believe having graduates on the payroll renders the business more competitive.

Recruitment of wider skill sets

Security is a business sector that exists – and, indeed, will continue to exist – in an ever-changing landscape, with shifting threats from terrorism and growing digital risks very much part of the mix.

To ensure we have the skilled resources and leadership in place that will keep the industry evolving, now is the time to start attracting and developing talent and knowledge from both within and further afield.

As security technology develops, we as individuals need to develop with it in order to ensure that technology can be deployed and managed on a successful basis.

Recruiting wider skill sets into security from the IT and digital arenas and combining this knowledge with the physical manpower, intelligence and processes already developed is going to be essential when it comes to making certain that the security sector’s solutions for business are fit for future purpose.

The responsibility for making these changes, building the future of the profession and gaining supplier recognition in the Boardroom which security deserves has to sit with everyone who works across the security arena.

If we collectively drive change not only for our own benefit but also for that of future leaders in our sector, together we may just manage to reach the accolade of ‘Excellence’.

Gemma Quirke is Managing Director of Security Services at Wilson James


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