Chairman of the Security Institute and Senior Lecturer and Course Leader in Security and Risk Management, Dr Alison Wakefield, shares her views on the opportunities for today’s security professionals, the challenges these bring, her ideas on career development in the security sector and some insight into her background and approach.
Time for the security sector to shine
Dr Wakefield believes there is no doubt that today’s world is riskier, more chaotic and uncertain than previous decades, as both the government’s national security strategy outlines and leading thought leaders point out. How can the security sector harness this heightened awareness? Dr Wakefield says, “Now is the time for the security sector to demonstrate its value; we have a lot to offer and the capacity to meet demand.”
The good news is that the commercial security sector is providing competitive solutions that can bring return on investment (ROI) and enable a company to gain a competitive advantage, according to Dr Wakefield.
She also believes it is critical that security professionals explore innovation in other market sectors. As “a model of excellent practice” Dr Wakefield points to ProtectED, a code of practice and accreditation scheme developed at the University of Salford based on a holistic model of security practice for higher education institutions, centred around the safety, security and wellbeing of students. Security functions across the sector and across different types of organisation could learn from this initiative. This approach to knowledge sharing is a cornerstone to Dr Wakefield’s work with the security world.
Further, she suggests that important areas for security professionals to monitor are the developments in future technology and how they impact security. “For example, we talk a lot about big data analytics and the Internet of Things, but don’t yet talk much about Augmented Reality Technology (ART), which can be a great tool for training and for front-line operatives, as well as managers in control rooms able to see things through their eyes. It might be the case in ten years’ time that we are all wearing special glasses and control everything we do through ART!”
Given the range of threats and challenges facing the world, what are the priority areas to address? A top concern for Dr Wakefield is cyber: “We are just not skilling the population sufficiently to manage the threats: the general public, employees, every security professional.” This is compounded by a crisis in the recruitment of computer science teachers to deliver digital literacy in schools. In one response, the Security Institute has an initiative headed by new director Mahbubul Islam that will focus on upskilling security professionals in cyber. A particular focus will be demystifying the plethora of cyber security qualifications.
Dr Wakefield’s second main area of concern is around emergency preparedness. Led by the Cabinet Office, there is a continuing focus on increasing the UK’s capability to respond to and recover from civil emergencies, but she is concerned that the business sector is not sufficiently well advanced, particularly in light of the extent to which our critical infrastructure falls under private sector ownership, and the dependencies between key sectors. “Businesses are more expert in protective security than emergency preparedness and crisis management. The response to a serious national emergency will require everyone to work together. We need boards to take more responsibility, and individuals in the sector to help get the message across.”
The role of the Security Institute
In post as Chairman of the Security Institute for six months, Dr Wakefield is pleased with progress to date. In particular, the AGM, where she spoke for the first time in her new role: “When I stood up to make my speech, I felt like I was talking to friends. It felt very natural, the atmosphere was lovely.”
Recent key achievements for the Institute include its brand refresh and new website, with the development of a range of new membership services, and big plans to widen the net of members who can help take forward new initiatives.
Taking the Security Institute to the next level
Dr Wakefield has a clear strategy for how she would like to see the Security Institute increase its influence and, in turn, represent its members more effectively and increase opportunities for them. Firstly, “we are looking strategically at the external links we want to build. We are now talking about potentially hundreds of organisations that we want to link with, across government, industry, academia, the media and professional communities”. Deputy Chairman Peter Lavery is leading on this, she reported, with the support of new director Richard Woolford. Secondly, in order to enable this expansion, “we are raising the profile of all the directors; we cannot rely on a single person in that respect. They will each lead on different stakeholder relationships, and in many cases we will ask senior members to act as our representatives with external partners”. Thirdly, Dr Wakefield has plans to further develop the governance arrangements for the Institute to work more like a large organisation and offer more transparency to members and external stakeholders, in order to build credibility and trust. Of course, as Dr Wakefield points out, “all of these ambitions are only possible due to excellent predecessors on the board who have got us onto a strong financial footing, a committed and innovative team of directors, an energetic and proactive Chief Executive in Rick Mounfield plus superb HQ staff”.
Finding a security job
We moved on to discuss career development. Dr Wakefield recognises the challenges of both finding a job and developing a career in security. She has seen an increase in demand from people early in their careers for both vocational and academic courses due to the stiff competition in the job market. But a degree is not always necessary, “People might have other social capital that gets them to the job they want. You can build expertise through vocational roles, experience and a variety of other routes.”
She went on to say, “Career pathways can be vertical in terms of the management structure or horizontal through building expertise in a particular subject. We need both these types of senior people: the senior manager and the subject matter expert. This helps to build specialist knowledge and to make sure it is shared effectively.”
Dr Wakefield recognises that it is necessary to promote the sector to the wider world, so that it opens itself up to the best future employees. “The security sector needs people from whatever background they come, so that includes school, university or movement across from other business functions.” In a new Security Institute initiative, Paul Barnard, a recently co-opted director, is developing ways to reach out and sell security careers to young people.
“One of the problems is that the security sector relies too heavily on the investment that’s been made in training in police and military. If the sector does not rely on its own development programmes, we are never going to have the capacity to diversify, and we can’t be as innovative as organisations need us to be, if people are clones of each other.”
Careers in security for graduates
For graduate recruitment into security, a key issue is that organisations need to develop their understanding of what a graduate can do. What does a graduate programme look like? What roles would suit them?
Dr Wakefield highlighted criminology graduates whose skillset offers a really good fit for working in security. “Their high level of information literacy, and experience of primary and secondary research and managing small scale projects can be invaluable.” One possible role is security analyst. Dr Wakefield explained that she is involved in three postgraduate research projects looking into this role and, once complete, the resulting learning can be shared.
An early interest in policing and crime
The final part of our interview was to focus on Dr Wakefield the person. She revealed, as a youngster, it looked like she was heading for a role in policing before she embarked on a career that would impact on crime and security in a different way. It all began with a two-year stint as a police cadet, which was followed by a further period as a special constable, helping her choose a degree in Social Policy and Criminology at Hull, followed by an MPhil in Criminology at Cambridge University. Her interest in private security developed during her master’s course and became the focus of the thesis of both her master’s and doctorate, resulting in a successful book, ‘Selling Security: The Private Policing of Public Space’.
Her initial plans to join policing changed when she recognised the complexity of today’s world creates the need for a range of experts, specialists, analysts and researchers to understand its many facets and to share that knowledge.
A variety of roles eventually led to her first teaching post at Leicester University and a career path in academia with strong links into the security sector. Alison believes her strengths lie in the ability to bring her sociologist’s training and academic background to bear in how she asks questions, learns the landscape and builds knowledge. “I am now in constant contact with a wide range of people right across the sector and beyond, and have become part of the flow of knowledge and the knowledge-sharing networks.”