How the security sector is evolving as a career choice for young people
According to the Security Industry Authority (SIA), approximately half a million people are employed in security roles in the private security sector and the security industry contributes approximately £6 billion to the economy of the UK. A promising basis for those considering a career in security?
Although we are in difficult economic times, “the security sector is growing and will stay strong,” says Peter French, CEO of SSR Personnel. In fact, he believes that “from 2013-14, there will be more rapid demand for talented people, with business experience and skills”.
James Kelly, Chief Executive of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), agrees, “The security industry is committed to providing personal development, meaning that security is no longer just a job, but a rewarding and fulfilling career.”
John Roddy, CEO of the Shield Group, adds, “I think young people should seriously consider a long-term commitment to this sector. Like many industries, there is some stigma attached, but the security industry in the UK is growing.”
The young people who have already made the decision to develop a career in security are making a big impression on those they meet. Peter French comments, “My experience of security apprentices is excellent, these young people really understand the seriousness of what we do.”
As the security sector continues to evolve as a career of choice for many young people and with their involvement crucial to its success, what steps are organisations and the industry taking to attract and retain the best young people?
A wealth of opportunities
The BSIA believes that the industry boasts a wealth of different opportunities across a range of sectors. James Kelly says, “This sector provides a fantastic opportunity for career progression, with it being commonplace for personnel to be promoted through the ranks within the industry. In fact, many supervisors and even some managing directors of security companies started their career as a security officer or installer.”
Mike Britnell, Skills for Security, Interim CEO, says, “Part of Skills for Security’s mission is to truly understand the breadth and depth of the security sector.” Mike already sees a sector containing as many as forty discrete areas of security skill and together these skills provide a crucial defence against crime, disruption and terrorism.
Dr Alison Wakefield, Senior Lecturer in Security Risk Management at the University of Portsmouth, and Head of the Research Directorate at the Security Institute, comments, “What I find so exciting about the security field today is how quickly we are seeing it adapting to new business opportunities internationally, new global threats and new regulatory requirements.
“Corporations are expanding into more challenging places, having to respond to a widening range of risks and threats, and facing increasingly exacting corporate governance responsibilities.”
Alison explains that in order to meet the changing needs of their organisations, corporate security departments are expanding the scope and the professionalism of their personnel. At the same time, the commercial security sector is evolving to address the specific security requirements of new overseas markets and growing industries, as well as the changing demands of customers at home.
A consortium including the Security Institute, Skills for Security, the Home Office, the SIA and some insurance businesses is looking at further developing security apprenticeships. It will involve on-the-job training, day release or block release and working in a post for up to two years. “We aim to create up to 20,000 apprentices, we will give them life skills, teach them how to communicate, how to adjudicate and experience in aspects of business, such as customer services and administration,” says Peter French.
The security industry has proven itself to be a viable career option for those with a disability. According to a recent BSIA survey, people with a disability have found their place in security, with 62.3% of respondents confirming that their company does currently employ someone with a disability. A further 96.2% of respondents considered the management team of their organisation to take equality, diversity and inclusion seriously in the way they behave and talk.
Attracting the best candidates
There is a consensus that the industry needs to do more to attract people into the sector and for it to be seen as a credible place to start your career. “We want to see a time when people do not hide the fact that they started as a security officer and that it was a springboard to their business career,” says Peter French.
Alison Wakefield explores this idea further, “The sector can only benefit from opening itself up better to ambitious young people, this was one of the assumptions behind the Olympics ‘Bridging the Gap’ initiative. There is currently much room for improvement, however, in the defining of career paths and the support available to develop people, although the government’s ongoing efforts to promote apprenticeships and the sector-specific support being provided by Skills for Security are a terrific step in the right direction.”
Police or Military background?
The traditional view is that only those from a military or police background can progress in the security industry. Alison Wakefield explains, “It is unsurprising that security employers rely so heavily on individuals with military or police backgrounds, given the wealth of training and experience they receive that is rarely available elsewhere.”
But she believes that the industry should develop to enable a broader intake, “Ideally the sector should be structured in such a way as to attract the best candidates, whatever their background, and be in a position to develop them so as to ensure a rounded skill set.”
This is already happening in areas. John Roddy says, “Although there is an increase in retired police officers wanting to join, new applicants into the business, without police or military experience, are successful. What is important are strong communication skills and a positive attitude.”
Peter French agrees, “The need for a military or police background is relative to the post applied for. If you are going for a senior job, then a board may be more comfortable with senior police or military background. But they need an eclectic mix of skills, applicants need to be creative, innovative and have a good financial understanding.”
Alison Wakefield says, “Ideally, in due course more employers will develop summer internships (often based around an intern conducting a project and presenting it at the end of their term) and graduate trainee positions (frequently involving the rotation of trainees around different functions with a view to placing them in a regular role at the end of the process).”
The Security Managers and Directors of the future
The training and development of the security managers of the future is clearly crucial to retaining and developing those working in the industry. Alison Wakefield outlines some of the issues in this area, “The field of security is not clearly defined, the knowledge base is scant and piecemeal, and there is no management qualification that is regarded as essential or any consensus as to what the curriculum for such a qualification needs to cover.” She continues, “The security discipline needs to be better defined, better informed, and in a better position to guide the development of individuals as well as providing more explicit progression pathways for them.”
However, there is significant progress. Peter French says, “The new Chartered Security Professional (CSyP) is the gold standard and shows you can go from cradle to grave within the profession, and is on par with other legitimate professions, such as accountancy and law; it is a serious step forward.”
Paul Tennent, Chairman of the BSIA Training Providers Section, adds, “It is extremely important to us that we challenge the status quo by striving for continuous improvement in how we behave as professionals, as well as how we operate our training businesses. We provide quality training set to the highest standards so that the wider security industry may thrive with the best-trained personnel. It is key, therefore, that we meet the needs of the industry by adhering to high professional standards.”
And what of the openings for graduates? Alison Wakefield says, “There are currently few opportunities for the more ‘traditional’ type of graduate, but they are another dimension of the labour market that the sector needs to harness and develop. All the major professions rely on new trainees coming directly from university, and by not building explicit graduate pathways into the sector we are missing out on high potential candidates.”
Peter French believes that graduates can all do well in this sector. He acknowledges that most businesses want graduates with experience, and encourages graduates to look for that experience, “Like the Archie Norman model, where he encouraged executives to spend some time on the shop floor, go and see how it works, then you will manage better.”
John Roddy concludes, “This is a challenging, stimulating, global and diverse sector. It welcomes graduates and those without qualifications, to commit to a long-term career.”