In a focus on security career development, professionalisation, qualifications and training, here we feature case studies of four very different security professionals’ careers. They provide a summary of their career to date, their approach to training and qualifications and any advice they would pass onto others.
Clare McIntyre, Security Systems Auditor, National Security Inspectorate (NSI)
Being raised in Northern Ireland during the Troubles meant security shaped many of my daily routines. Checkpoints, bag searches, and surveillance cameras were all part of everyday life.
I started my career in medical research, eventually studying at the University of Leeds. After several years, I decided to change direction and do something that would offer a more varied role. My lab technician and research skills, combined with my familiarity with public security issues, led me to the fire and security sector.
Over the past twenty years, I have immensely enjoyed developing and expanding my knowledge of fire and security systems with two firms, one local to Northern Ireland and the other an international conglomerate. I started as a CCTV Manager for a public surveillance monitoring room, becoming a nominated fire alarm designer and progressing to integrated fire and security systems.
This led on to becoming Head of Quality, in charge of all internal audits and aspects related to quality, and as a result I became familiar with the National Security Inspectorate (NSI).
Applying to be an auditor for the NSI was a natural progression. I was appointed as security and fire systems auditor and lead auditor for ISO 9001 in Northern Ireland at the start of 2018. I am extremely proud to be the NSI’s first female systems auditor. It is a fact that the fire and security systems world is very male dominated; however, I do not consider my gender to be a barrier and focus on being the best auditor I can be. I am passionate about developing and improving standards within the industry. This is fundamental to the auditing role: identifying opportunities to improve business performance and customer experience. I really believe we can inspire change, and having a more diverse workforce will support that.
I have enjoyed the support of an expert team at NSI since my appointment and the advice and experience they have given me has been invaluable. My training as a researcher taught me the value of continual learning and an enquiring mind. I am an avid reader and have been known to have a copy of British Standards and Codes of Practice on my bedside table for my sins. I am currently writing a book about the history of the Fire and Security Industry that begins with the first patent (no. 9802) for an electronic burglar alarm, issued in 1853 to Augustus Pope of Somerville, Massachusetts, USA.
There have been many changes and advances since then!
It is essential to enjoy a good balance in life. I run 5k’s to clear my head and enjoy fun family time at weekends with my beautiful son and amazing husband and friends.
I read somewhere… “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!!” It is a maxim I have taken to heart.
A temporary job is start of long, successful career
John Sephton, Security Manager, Axis Security
Not by chance and not by choice, my career started as a temporary job for six months, and after I decided to make it a career, thanks to John Docherty (MD SecuriGuard Services), it has grown ever since.
My initial four-day training course was at Vauxhall Bridge Road, where I took and passed my SITO exam, then I was in as a new recruit at 80 Strand – the old Shell Mex House building. I was very fortunate to meet Dave Earnshaw (Oakpark Security), who was my supervisor at the time to guide me. After I had learned the ropes, patrols, emergency procedures, a vacancy came up as a supervisor, so I applied and was successful. This job, which was only temporary, became the start of a long successful career full of ups and downs, but came right in the end.
With competence in security the time had come to educate myself. I had a negative mindset when it came to education as I didn’t do too well at school and this was affecting my confidence and chances at progression. I decided to bite the bullet and do a part-time degree at Portsmouth University, which was a great experience and I graduated. It has opened doors for me since. I know university isn’t for everybody, but there are other routes: find them, apply them and own them. The change is coming, the time is now and put yourself out there.
The new security professionals coming into the industry really need seasoned professionals to believe in them and help them grow. When I started, I really didn’t know what was available, who to ask, how people climbed the ladder and if my CV was any good. I was there trying to figure it out along the way, and this is why I believe that mentoring is the way forward and developing your own style is a must. I have had a couple of great mentors in my time: Chris Lyons (Axis Security) and Neill Catton (MD CIS Security). They showed me the finer arts of account management and gave me a chance to improve and progress. The point here is to find a mentor for your questions; the worst thing you can do is guess, when help is available.
Stressful trying to be successful
Make your own chances, create your own light and take people along for the ride. My career has been up and down, but I never gave up. Experience is only created by mistakes and failures along the way and there is never a No, only the next opportunity! I have a great career, with a company and client that cares. I continually strive to make my teams successful by mentoring them, by not giving up and by finding the next opportunity.
Here are some top tips:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make yourself known. Get on LinkedIn and into some professional groups on the platform; contribute
- Ask your company if they can use the apprenticeship levy for your development
- Seek out a mentor for guidance. The Security Institute has an active mentoring platform
- Take ownership of your career and set up a career path, because nobody else will do it for you
- Take control over your CPD. The Security Institute has a free CPD scheme
- Make your CV stand out from the others
- Never, ever give up!
Kat Hart, Head of Luxury and Close Protection, Amulet
I spent fifteen years in the adventure travel industry, working overseas, initially as an expedition leader, and then as a consultant in Operations Management and Logistics in remote and often hostile environments – setting up operations in countries where there was little to no tourist infrastructure (DRC, Papua New Guinea, Mali, Togo, Tajikistan, Eritrea). I would be the person leading the first trip with paying guests in order to perfect it in real time.
I then chose a career in the security sector because being able to put my incredibly compatible skill set (essentially real time risk assessment and management) to use in a different industry interests me and has a lot of different applications.
Initially drawn to the Close Protection sector, I spent four years on the freelance CP circuit, gaining experience in all aspects – Personal Protection (working with royalty, celebrities, and High Net Worth individuals in a wide range of environments, UK and overseas), Asset Protection for the luxury market (in both a covert and high-profile capacity) and also heading up large-scale events. A wider security consultancy role now suits my skill set and experience.
It is difficult for traditional security companies to bridge the gaps between standard man guarding and close protection, and standard man guarding and events and I think my background and experience, being from a non-standard route to the industry, brings a different dynamic to the table.
My day-to-day role depends on the time of year. It is currently the events season in London and I’m planning every aspect of operations for large-scale event security for a wide range of clients, such as the Royal Opera House and London Zoo, and heading up the event.
The three best aspects of my role are working with interesting and varied clients, developing bespoke security operations, and building teams and working with people. The most challenging are working with interesting and varied clients, and building teams! Educating clients about security matters in what is a too-often overlooked area of concern.
Professional qualifications and training
Close Protection training absolutely steered me and gave me a great grounding in a new industry. Although I had no intention of working in a role that would require me to carry firearms, I did my firearms competency training as an addition to the basic CP course, as I felt that not coming from the standard military/police background, this was a show of commitment I could make to an industry I was new to. (And it was also a fantastic experience!)
Networking and finding support
The CP industry is all about who you know, and a crucial part of making a success of the role is keeping your contacts and relationships going. You are only as good as your last job, and it can be a very cut-throat industry. It’s definitely good to keep a small and strong network of trusted people around you.
Ways of coping with stress and getting a work / life balance
It is very difficult to achieve a good work/life balance during the events season, which involves unsociable hours and long days, but it’s all about planning around it, and ensuring you have a good close team around you when it comes to the operation helps immensely. I don’t live in London, I live on a boat on the coast, and my free time is spent very differently to my working life, which helps to maintain the balance.
Tips for success
Security skills have such a wide range of applications – things you’d never have thought were important for a security role may actually be the key thing you are hired specifically because of… the languages you can speak, sports or activities you love. These may be the key thing that lands you your best job. I have my skipper’s licence and have been approached for a number of jobs on superyachts specifically because of this.
Also, I don’t have the usual profile for security, which is actually what I’ve found to be my biggest strength. I’ve been hired specifically because of my ability not to be picked out as the obvious security presence and in many contexts, this is worth more than you can imagine!
John Lyons, Head of Operations, QCIC Group
I have always had a career in security, albeit more aligned to my chosen field of electronic security systems.
To be absolutely honest, I chose an apprenticeship in security systems over electrical installation as a sixteen-year-old based solely on the fact that it was a three and not four-year duration. I’m glad I did. That choice as a young man has afforded me a career that has allowed me to travel the world and has also allowed me to work on, and hopefully influence, a large number of landmark developments.
At present I am the Head of Operations at QCIC Group. I am responsible for a team of Security Systems Consultants, and our main role is to oversee the tender and construction phases related to security engineering for many high-end developments – from Blast and Hostile Vehicle Mitigation to electronic systems such as CCTV and Access Control. I also support our Professional Services team and their work to deliver complex global security system upgrades to large multinational organisations.
I was asked to list the three best and the three most challenging aspects of my role, but would any of them be the best if they weren’t challenging? I think not, but here goes. Number one, working with people; number two, working with people; number three… you get my drift. I enjoy working with people every day; a few of you who know me may challenge that, but it’s true. I’m not advocating a working utopia: people can be difficult and complex but also warm and helpful, but I believe if you treat all with empathy and respect, be they the security officer at the gate or the CEO in the boardroom, you won’t go far wrong.
It would be misleading of me to advocate working your way up through your career, as I believe if you find a role that you truly enjoy there is nothing wrong in sticking with that, but use training and development to become the best you can be and then be even better.
I have always tried to use education and the knowledge of my peers and seniors to improve myself; none of us have all the answers but maybe all of us together might get very close.
Qualifications open up a world of opportunity, such as the ability to join like-minded others in professional bodies linked to your chosen field.
Always remember that it’s a job, a job that should empower and improve you and your loved ones’ lives, and not a job that should be a continual strain on you and your loved ones’ lives. Again, no working utopia here, we all get stressed, it’s because we care. So, don’t be afraid to push back, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are productive only when they have some degree of fulfilment.
Tips for success
Nothing really ground-breaking from me:
- Be honest, to yourself and to others
- Try and enjoy what you do; you spend a lot of time doing it, so why not enjoy it?
- Grow and nurture a mutual support network
- Always move forward and try to better yourself in work and in life
- Be open and learn from others, whoever they are, be that the good or the bad.