Although the pay rates that security officers are awarded remain a cause for concern, the issue points to a wider problem regarding training and skills development, not to mention the way in which personnel are deployed. Graham Allison explains why security services providers need to offer sustainable careers for employees in order to increase their value and ensure that customers receive the highest levels of service at all times.
According to PayScale, a security officer can start out on a pretty low wage of £7.73 an hour. That figure is just 23 pence higher than the National Minimum Wage. A self-inflicted culture of competitive undercutting, an obsession with market share and the inability to professionalise the industry by offering talented young people a career path has led to a situation wherein the majority of customers simply don’t place a high enough value on their security guarding operations – and will not pay a penny more than they have to for the service.
This status quo has far-reaching implications for customers, some of whose preoccupation with lowest cost is increasingly proving to be a false economy. At a point in time when their security strategies should be watertight, many customers don’t have adequate measures in place to counter risks or threats.
Revamped security regime
Similarly, tenders are often carried out on an ‘as is’ basis simply because purchasers are concerned that the outlay for implementing measures different than those already in place will cost them more. While this can indeed be the case, it’s equally possible that a revamped security regime could cost less: a more optimised service will be more efficient.
While at first glance it might appear that this issue has little to do with low pay, the fact is that a more holistic strategy will reduce response times, lower security-related expenditure for retailers and improve the quality of the security operatives deployed. What it also means is that security officers are given a real opportunity to demonstrate Return on Investment against a defined set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). In turn, this drives up their skills, value and, therefore, pay.
However, we still have a long way to go. The problem is that the approach to loss prevention and protecting organisations from those with malicious intent is fundamentally the same as it has always been. Traditional Shopping Centre security, for example, encourages a silo-based mentality wherein, as well as paying a service charge for the security guarding of public areas, retailers also procure their own in-store operatives. This often leads to a fragmented, costly and ineffective security strategy that doesn’t enable adequate measures to be put in place to counter any risks or threats and proactively deal with them when they happen.
By using existing technology and adopting smarter thinking this issue could be resolved. If a panic button were to be installed within each store, security officers in a Shopping Centre’s public areas could be notified via a smart phone, tablet or even a remote monitoring centre where and when help is needed and provide an immediate response. Such a ‘clustered’ solution eliminates the need for retailers to employ their own personnel – or at least it can prompt them to reduce their number – and reassures them that help is at hand at the press of a button.
It’s an approach that has benefits for all interested parties, as it reduces expense for retailers by dint of them not having to pay twice over for security. It also increases margins for the security services provider and allows them to deploy more highly-trained and skilled personnel. The same logic applies to retail parks, business and technology parks and even multi-tenanted office spaces.
To ensure standards of response are maintained regardless of the size of the organisation, KPIs can be agreed in advance. Security operatives can use smart devices for live incident reporting and organisations may work together, talk to each other and create a more cohesive security solution with no silos and greater degrees of information sharing. Gathering the right data means that security officers can be deployed more effectively and helps them provide a better level of service.
A security strategy can only ever be as effective as the people charged with implementing it on a day-to-day basis. The aforementioned ‘intelligent guarding’ approach combines technology, and the data produced by it, with people who are able to deal with the outputs of these systems. As we’ve stated on previous occasions, knowledge about loss prevention, report writing, behavioural analysis and profiling, Health and Safety, data and intelligence gathering and First Aid, in tandem with excellent customer service skills, is now vital for the modern security officer, as is their ability to work and function as part of a team with non-security based personnel.
Likewise, in these uncertain times the threat posed by terrorist activity must be taken seriously and there are obviously some locations at higher risk of attack than others. Again, those with specialist training in counter-terrorism strategies will be able to undertake an appraisal of the threat posed and outline the communications system, infrastructure and decision-making processes necessary in the event of an attack.
It’s by focusing on the development of these skills that the overall worth of the security officer’s role can be elevated. Investing in employees ensures that they’re given the requisite knowledge to develop their careers. This facilitates a virtuous circle, whereby if a company looks after its employees, those employees will look after its customers who, in turn (and by retaining the security company’s services long-term), will enhance profitability.
It also engenders a corporate ethos of inclusivity, pride, loyalty and commitment, as well as increasing staff retention.
Upping the game
If this concept is promoted, acknowledged and accepted then margins might start to improve and, as a result, more talented individuals will consider working in the security business sector as an attractive career choice. It could also start to tackle the lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and age in the industry, which is nothing short of shocking.
If a security officer doesn’t possess the skills, talent and basic training needed to use the technology-based tools at their disposal, then at the end of the day the concept of intelligent guarding will never progress.
However, it mustn’t be forgotten that, above all else, security guarding is a people-focused service. The key to long-term success involves bringing the two worlds together.
Added to that, with so much change happening in the industry, knowledge provision shouldn’t be seen as a ‘quick fix’. On the contrary, companies must invest in the Continuing Professional Development of their employees and create a culture of ongoing improvement. This means that employees will perform to the standards required. It’s the kind of expertise that can literally be the difference between life and death.
The security industry clearly has much to do in terms of increasing the professionalism of those working within it, but at times can be its own worst enemy. A business sector that employs in excess of 350,000 professional and licensed operatives should be doing much more to address the negative perceptions held of it within wider society. There’s currently a distinct lack of knowledge and appreciation for the role that security personnel play in keeping people, property and assets safe.
Sadly, it would appear that trade bodies have little interest in promoting the positives of the security guarding sector. Therefore, the security services industry must do more to communicate the positives it offers. Frankly, if it doesn’t do so then it will continue to struggle attracting high quality individuals from what’s now a rapidly diminishing pool of talent.
The commoditisation of security services and those who perform them is by no means a recent phenomenon and, to a greater or lesser extent, the industry only has itself to blame. It needs to adapt in order to meet the demands of the future through innovative ways of working which are already offering Return on Investment, while also elevating the position of security officers and increasing their pay.
Although some customers will always expect ‘champagne for beer money’, forward-thinking organisations across a diverse array of vertical sectors are already beginning to realise the benefits of information sharing and appreciate precisely why skilled security personnel are worth the investment.
It’s therefore beholden upon security service providers to build on this by investing in their people and offering them the types of careers deserving of such a vital role.
Graham Allison is Managing Director of Cardinal Security
*Security Business Sector Insight is the space where members of Cardinal Security’s management team examine current and often key-critical issues directly affecting today’s companies and their customers. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are intended to generate debate and discussion among practitioners within the professional security and risk management sectors. If you would like to make comment on the views outlined, please send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
**Cardinal Security was formed back in 2003 and is a privately-owned company delivering innovative security solutions throughout the UK, Europe and the US. The business is a leading supplier of security officers, store detectives and key holding to the retail and logistics industry and works with many well-known brands including Arcadia, Asda, Dixons Carphone, Footasylum, House of Fraser, Morrisons and UK Mail. Cardinal Security is a Security Industry Authority Approved Contractor and in the Top 5% of all security providers