Rather than be considered some kind of regulatory or contractual burden, Chris Wisely explains exactly why security training ought to be viewed for what it is – a widespread benefit to any organisation that, if conducted in a detailed and appropriate fashion, far outweighs the scale of any necessary underpinning financial investment.
There can be little doubt that the face of training in the UK’s security sector has changed significantly in recent years. With higher client expectations of security providers, expanding risk registers, increased pressure on margins and rising aspirations of those working in the security world, training has become a key driver of both change and quality. Indeed, key thinkers in the sector understand that ongoing training in security is now ‘part of the job’.
Before the advent of regulation and the Security Industry Authority (SIA), security providers would perform their own basic job training at the recruitment stage, imparting quality control and the ability to select candidates for sites based on little more than the impression that was gained during the interview process. Regulation afforded the security business sector ‘ready-trained’ personnel and offered some companies the opportunity to reduce their costs by cutting back on their own in-house training capabilities or, in some cases, abandoning them altogether.
This was a strategy not without risk and the sector has duly witnessed instances of training malpractice (‘BSIA Training Providers Section defends security industry suppliers in wake of BBC’s Inside Out programme’, Risk UK, April 2015, pp8-9). Perhaps this isn’t too surprising. Where Government funding was made available to training providers for SIA licence-linked instruction based on candidate numbers and results, it could be argued that this created significant financial incentives to bend and/or break those rules that are in place.
Security companies who place their trust in the security training sector to provide appropriately trained personnel may well be deploying officers who have not even undertaken the mandatory training. The sector has no way of ever knowing the scale of malpractice. The responsibility for ensuring that personnel are appropriately trained once again falls to the security companies.
SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme
One requirement of the SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) is that all security officers are assessed at the recruitment stage to confirm that they’ve both undertaken and retained the knowledge derived from their basic job training. It’s often the case that significant time may have elapsed since that education was completed. In addition, there’s no official requirement for annual refresher training.
With no formal research in place to inform about knowledge retention levels in relation to SIA training, it’s fair to suggest that this is a sensible first line of inquisition for anyone hiring security operatives, irrespective of ACS accreditation requirements.
A structured ‘training needs analysis’ should follow to identify areas of strength and weakness, in turn informing operational management teams for risk management as well as succession planning opportunities.
Regular refresher training on core security topics should also be considered an ‘essential’. Again, the ACS audits include a check for the provision of annual refresher training on subjects relevant to the roles being performed. This could perhaps be considered best practice for all security providers regardless of whether or not they hold ACS accreditation.
The delivery of this training can be challenging. Sites with a dedicated security management structure in place provide the simplest environment for delivery, whereas the ‘single officer’ sites are the hardest to address, and particularly so when they’re in remote locations. A common solution is for mobile management to provide ‘toolbox talks’ to these officers during their mandated welfare visits.
Another solution that’s gaining traction in the sector is e-Learning. e-Learning can either be extremely cost-effective or extraordinarily expensive depending on how it’s implemented and/or embedded within the security business. It’s true to say that taking ‘old’ and potentially uninspiring content and simply making it available online isn’t likely to engage the workforce and may indeed be counter-productive if the intention within the business is to develop a true learning culture.
Significant investment required
The investment required for security training is significant. While arguments may be made for and against delivering training in excess of contractual requirements, discussions should always be balanced against the costs of no training being provided at all.
Refresher training on certain core topics may be a legal obligation for security providers, specifically in relation to Health and Safety at work, but training in other areas should also be considered. This might include additional conflict management instruction, risk assessment or even physical intervention training if this is identified as being required by an appropriate review.
In this respect, effective training is clearly a cost-efficient risk mitigation strategy. Further, if the security business sector is perceived – rightly or wrongly – as providing personnel that lack the appropriate knowledge and skills to do their job properly then the harm that could be done due to lack of instruction is undeniable. Clients would refuse to see the value of security guarding services, downward pressure on margins would increase, the industry would fail to attract and retain talent and the progress the sector has made towards ‘professionalisation’ would ultimately be rendered useless.
Fortunately, such pessimistic views are being countered by our nature as a service industry. We’re privy to positive change being driven by the needs and expectations of our client base.
Requests for additional information in tender proposals are an excellent barometer in terms of how security solutions purchasers view the importance of training as an integral element of service delivery. Typically, this will include a focus on customer service which is likely to be costed into the contract as ‘added value’, in turn increasing costs to the security provider.
It may be due to the historical practice of offering limited training on this basis within security tenders which has now been accepted as a standard offering. That status quo may contribute to pressure being applied in order to expand this commitment further at no additional cost to the client.
Sadly, this can lead to training being delivered ‘on the cheap’ as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise that’s actually counter-productive in terms of the cultural risks it creates and the cost management introduced by wasting money on ill-conceived or ineffective training.
Experience informs us that there’s no such thing as ‘training on the cheap’. The measurement should be whether or not the training is effective in bringing about positive behavioural enhancements that will increase client satisfaction while also controlling costs.
Clients: not the only stakeholders
Clients are not the only stakeholders with an interest in training. As the security business sector matures there’s internal pressure for training opportunities. Indeed, a number of studies have indicated that those working in the sector have career aspirations perhaps beyond those traditionally associated with front line security personnel. If the sector truly wishes to retain these people and attract others like them, training and career development opportunities must be clearly signposted.
There’s little doubt that any security business investing in an effective training programme is preparing itself for the future needs of both the market and the industry itself. An innovative training strategy will help to win business, attract and retain quality staff, maintain client satisfaction, build trust and support the growing perception of the security sector as being a developing profession.
Chris Wisely is Managing Director of Axis Security