Paying the price

I’m Graham Allison, managing director at Cardinal Security, and in this blog, I’d like to explain why I think security services providers need to offer sustainable careers for their employees in order to increase their value and ensure that customers receive the highest level of service.

As far as I’m concerned, although the pay rates that security officers are awarded are often less than satisfactory, this issue points to a wider problem. A culture of competitive undercutting, an obsession with market share and the inability to offer talented young people a career path has led to a situation where the majority of customers simply do not place a high enough value on their manned guarding operations. It has led to a situation where, at the time of writing, a security guard earns an average hourly wage of just £7.63 an hour – a figure just 13p higher than the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

This has far-reaching implications for customers. At a time when their security strategies should be watertight, many simply do not have adequate measures in place to counter any risks or threats.

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, where as well as paying a service charge for the manned guarding of public areas, retailers are also procuring their own in store operatives. By installing a panic button within each store, manned guards in a shopping centre’s public areas could be notified via a smartphone, tablet or even a remote monitoring centre where help is needed and provide an immediate response. This ‘clustered’ solution eliminates the need for retailers to employ their own personnel, or at least reduce their numbers.

While it could appear that this issue has little to do with low pay, the fact is that a more holistic strategy could give security officers a real opportunity to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) against a defined set of key performance indicators (KPIs). This would, in turn, drive up their skills, value and, therefore, pay.

It is worth remembering that a security strategy can only ever be as effective as the people charged with implementing it on a day-to-day basis. An intelligent guarding approach combines technology, and the data produced by it, with people who are able to deal with the outputs of these systems. Therefore, knowledge about counterterrorism, loss prevention, report writing, behavioural analysis and profiling, health and safety, data and intelligence gathering, first aid, as well as excellent customer service, is now vital for the modern manned guard, as is the ability to work as part of a team with non-security based personnel.

It is by focusing on the development of these skills that the overall worth of the security officer’s role can be elevated, and investing in employees ensures that they are given the requisite knowledge to develop their careers. In addition, if this concept is promoted, acknowledged and accepted, margins might start to improve and, as a result, more talented individuals will consider working in the security industry 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 I think is nothing short of shocking.

Knowledge provision shouldn’t be seen as a ‘quick fix’ though. On the contrary, companies must invest in the long-term continuing professional development (CPD) of their employees and create a culture of ongoing improvement. This means employees will always be able to perform to the standards required – expertise that can literally be the difference between life and death.

The commoditisation of security services is not a recent phenomenon and to a certain 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, such as clustering, while elevating the position of security officers and increasing their pay.

While 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 why skilled security personnel are worth investing in. Therefore, I believe that it is up to security service providers to build upon this by investing in their people and offering them the types of careers deserving of such a vital role.

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