Security Institute on security career pathways
As the security sector continues to develop along the path to professional status, there is a growing need for clarity in terms of the longer-term opportunities that are available to practitioners in terms of security career pathways.
Once achieved, this will then naturally inform what is needed in terms of qualifications and experience for each area, providing what is arguably a cornerstone of professional status. Without this clarity, the sector will continue to run the risk of being seen only as a short- term job rather than a credible long-term career choice and talented practitioners will leave the sector feeling unfulfilled.
The variation of operational security environments across the sector makes developing a guide to current pathways a challenging task. A first step is to look at some of the entry points into the sector.
There are several entry level routes into security, and the options of general security guarding, retail security, door supervision and close protection are the most common.
Starting with security guarding, an officer, upon receipt of their SIA licence, can expect to work for two years or so in a front line capacity. During this time, they should expect to complete the relevant front-line security NVQ or similar, and CCTV qualifications are recommended.
There should then be a supervision programme that develops them, ensuring readiness for a team leader role. A structured method for identifying, developing and retaining talent is likely to become a key influencing factor for individuals who are choosing an employer.
Success as a team leader should see further opportunity to study for a security management position, such as shift manager or even site manager. From here, the typical career pathway is into commercial security account management, leading onto regional management and then perhaps Operations Director roles. As a security officer, the typical pathway is perhaps the simplest.
Security officers in the retail sector may follow the same pathway until they reach the management level, after which exists the additional opportunity to transition into loss prevention for suitable candidates. Loss prevention practitioners can then widen their knowledge with a focus on other elements of preventing loss, such as supply chain security. Specific sector competencies like this may also develop into consultancy roles within the retail market.
The night-time economy may offer little by way of long-term career prospects for a security practitioner, mainly due to the nature of the working environment. Effective door supervisors may be promoted to head doorperson at a venue, yet their competence may make them indispensable to the venue and so limit their opportunities to move onwards. However, there may be opportunities to move into event security, which could offer a managerial career path within the specialist companies.
Some door supervisors seek career advancement by either moving across to more traditional security roles outside the night-time economy, or undertaking close protection training. While there are no doubt many civilian security practitioners who succeed as private bodyguards, this is a sector of the industry dominated by ex-military and ex-police personnel who already possess operational experience, strong reputations and the networks necessary to succeed. Progression in this area requires further training and may lead to opportunities to specialise (such as a medic or driver) or supervision opportunities such as team leader. Beyond this, the career pathway becomes unclear but options include maritime security operations or consultancy for hostile environment operations.
Once a practitioner has reached a supervision role in any of the pathways and has several years of relevant experience, there are a number of additional career opportunities that may appear.
One is to develop along an education pathway, becoming qualified as a trainer, assessor and eventually a verifier. This requires a firm grounding in formal security management and operational security practice, as well as developing a second career as a professional educator. This level of knowledge can open a further career branch into auditing.
Anyone seeking to become a security management consultant is likely to need a relevant degree in security management if they wish to be seen as credible in the current market. While there are many BSc and similar programmes, an MSc in security management has become more popular in the last eight years, leading to what some have described as an ‘arms race of certificates’. What is certain is that credible experience, formal qualification and a decent professional reputation is a winning combination.
In-house security management
Another opportunity for those in a supervision role is sometimes the chance to work ‘in-house’ as a security manager. Some commentators in the sector have stated that ‘real security work is done in-house’ and that those practitioners working on commercial security contracts are only following the direction of the in-house security managers. Certainly, many practitioners have taken in-house roles and developed them into rewarding careers.This leads us onto discussion of higher level career developments the sector has seen in recent years, all of which exist in-house.
One of the high-profile in-house security roles that has appeared in the last decade is that of the cyber security manager. While it may appear that cyber security is the ‘rock n’ roll’ of the security industry and that traditional security is perhaps the ‘poor cousin’, nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly, cyber security practitioners see higher pay and arguably better conditions; however, they experience exactly the same operational challenges as the rest of the security industry. The grass is in no way greener. Pathways into cyber security are varied and usually require a relevant computer science degree and perhaps an accreditation such as ‘ethical hacker’.
Finally, there has been much discussion about the role of the chief security officer (CSO) and the huge responsibilities that accompany it. Certainly, the development of board-level security practitioners who are graduates with broad security and risk management experience that combines business management and leadership expertise with physical security, cyber security, personnel security, counter fraud, business continuity and many other areas is a huge step forward for the sector and perhaps may be seen as the pinnacle of a security career.
The sheer variety of roles and working environments makes the security industry an exciting and rewarding career choice for those with dedication, discipline and a commitment to succeed.
Richard Diston MSc MSyI, Director at Astute Training and Consulting.
On behalf of The Security Institute