David Rubens – Déjà Vu – All Over Again

David Rubens, Managing Director of David Rubens Associates
David Rubens, Managing Director of David Rubens Associates

In David Rubens fifth exclusive article for Infologue.com he discusses the future of the security industry. David writes; “For many of the people reading Bob Forsyth’s recent excellent column here on Infologue, in which he reviewed the current state of the security industry, and looked ahead to possible future developments, there was quite probably a vague sense of déjà vu. He started out by both setting the scene and offering a challenge:

‘The future of the industry is now at a significant cross roads; one path will lead to an industry that struggles to be taken seriously and operates in a low margin environment that prevents progression in becoming a sector that we can be proud of. The other direction is an industry that has taken some bold steps and made changes that will cement the future of a professional sector valued by its security staff and customers able to build careers and offer opportunity’.

“For those of us who had the pleasure of being at the SIA launch event at the QE2 Conference Centre in London in April 2003, it must have been hard to believe that it is already almost ten years since that ‘epoch-changing’ event, but equally hard to believe how little has changed in the intervening years. It is no exaggeration to say that Bob’s article could have been written in its entirety as part of the SIA launch, and no one would have known the difference.

“The vision offered to us as we began this adventure ten years ago was one where the private security sector offered leadership in creating a professional, well-trained and highly-motivated work force, one that would benefit from improved status, pay and conditions and which would in turn see a well-developed career path for those with the skills and aptitude to be part of it. Thomas Berglund, President and CEO of Securitas, gave an excellently-received speech in which he described the security industry as one where on-going training and professionalism would be the order of the day, and pay rates of £15.00 per hour would be the norm, as hiring professional security staff would be an investment that would add value to every aspect of the client’s operations. BSIA Chief Executive David Dickinson called it a game-changer for security sector, as it would move away from the unlicensed cowboys and would bring the possibility of improved status, better training and clear new qualifications that will lead to real career paths.

“And as to the level of service that we offer…. Bob goes on to write that “We must also modernise the way we market ourselves in the industry; the word ‘guard’ is still used and is totally inappropriate for the industry and sectors we work in – we don’t guard people, property and assets, we secure them. Our staff are not guards, they are security officers. Terminology is important and the whole industry must start to embrace the change in mind-set as well as change in standard’.

“This is exactly the language that was used to describe the vision of the new SIA-led framework. It is true that licensing has become accepted, but so too has the fact that what was originally seen as entry-level training that equipped people to take the first steps into the security world has become accepted as de facto industry standards, and there is very little, if any, concept of on-going professional development. Security, and especially manned-guarding (which is by far the largest part, as well as the most public aspect of this sector) is still firmly positioned in the low-pay, low-skill, high-turn-over economy. (And many people have forgotten that the initial cost of the license was projected to be in the range of £35-45, and there was genuine outrage when it was announced just prior to launching that it would be over £150. The fact that it eventually cost £245.00 changed the whole concept of licensing from its’ original mission).

“I wrote in 2003 that whoever thought that security officers would be paid £15.00 an hour had obviously forgotten their Marxist-Leninist economic theory. In a demand-driven economy, prices will go up – as long as there is a shortage of required resources. But if there is no shortage, and in fact an excess of resources / workers, then the clients are more likely to say something along the lines of ‘You are currently supplying us with twenty people. I am prepared to offer you a contract for two hundred people – on the condition that you lower your margins’. The tendency under such market conditions will always be for larger organisations to prosper, as they can create greater savings through economies of scale. This was well understood by Martin Gill when he predicted back then that within a few years there would only be a handful of major security companies in the UK, and all of the small ones would be unable to compete, and would eventually go to the wall – which in fact is what happened.

“I hope that Bob’s vision of a brave new chapter for the security industry leads to the sort of professional, well-trained, highly motivated – and appropriately paid – work-force that we undoubtedly deserve. But I also think that Bobby Logue might well put it in a drawer, and pencil it in to be reposted in 2022. Those of us who were there in 2003 know how fast ten years go by….”

David Rubens has been involved in UK security consultancy for twenty years. He holds an MSc in Security and Risk Management (Leicester University), and is a Visiting Lecturer and Dissertation Supervisor on their Security, Terrorism and Policing MSc programme. He was a Visiting Lecturer on the Strategic Leadership Programme at the Security and Resilience Department, Cranfield University, UK Defence Academy (2009-’10), focusing on terrorism & public policy and the management of large-scale, multi-agency operations.  He has written specialist reports for government agencies in Japan, Russia, Dubai, Nigeria, Liberia and the Caribbean, and is highly-regarded as a speaker on the international security circuit. He is currently on the Professional Doctorate programme at Portsmouth University Department of Criminology & Justice, where his research is concerned with the strategic management of security operations at the extremes of organisational complexity. He can be contacted at david@davidrubens-associates.com /www.davidrubens-associates.com

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