Make The Change

Skills for Security wholeheartedly endorses the views expressed in Stuart Lowden’s ‘Building the Future’ essay and Bill Muskin’s response. Together with the major industry associations we are constantly proclaiming the professionalism of our industry and its increasing contribution to the safety and security of the people and businesses of the UK. But in our heart of hearts we know that whilst that is true, there is very much more that the industry could and should be doing to raise its game. Stuart and Bill make some very pertinent points about working hours, working conditions and the erosion of margins in the guarding sector. These are important matters worthy of discussion but, whilst we certainly have an opinion on them, our remit from the industry is to raise the level of skills and so we will limit our contribution to the debate to issues around the training agenda.

Bill talks of the danger of slipping backwards to the bad old days of 20 years ago when there was “no recognition, training, support or development of staff”. Perhaps, then, we should go even further back, to the days of flared jeans and Zapata moustaches, when such benefits were available, and ask why we lost them? In the mid-seventies a major guarding company offered the following standard training for security officers:

  • Two days induction training
  • Minimum two shifts site training
  • One day classroom refresher after 12 months
  • One week residential course in the second year of service
  • Second week residential course in the third year

Newly promoted supervisors attended a further FIVE residential training courses and new managers completed a six-week induction programme. OK, so the induction training is now a mandatory four days and today’s commercial environment feels very different, but look at what has been lost by trimming training budgets, including the opportunity to build a really professional, respected industry.

The common excuse, and we mean excuse, for failing to invest in the development of staff is that the cost makes companies uncompetitive. Add extra training investment to those additional costs advocated by Stuart – better terms and conditions for employees – and surely we have a recipe for disaster?

Not necessarily. The company that delivered this unmatched training in the ‘70s also offered an unrivalled benefits package to its employees and demanded a healthy margin. It was by far the most expensive in any tendering competition, and yet it won more business and became the UKs largest guarding company. How? By marketing itself on the quality of the service it was able to deliver as a result of investing in its staff. This, surely, shows that competing on price alone is not the only way for a business to grow organically, and demonstrates that good customers are not averse to spending more in return for a better, professional security operation. And yet this level of investment in the future has all but disappeared from our industry as companies fight for market share, leaving very few employers who are prepared to say no to contracts that do not provide charge rates sufficient to allow reasonable pay and a margin for personnel development. And when one considers that the job of a security officer today is far more complex than it was thirty years ago, shouldn’t the volume and quality of training, and the employment conditions of security staff have grown with the importance of the role? Is it fair to the customer or the security officer to provide the legal minimum, and just what part does this failure to develop and reward the workforce play in the unsustainable levels of staff turnover that the industry suffers? We are all well aware of the detrimental effects that this seemingly intractable problem has on businesses, but how do we combat it?

Obviously, investment in front line staff is crucial, but another key element in this equation is, we believe, the failure to train supervisors and line managers properly. An extra 50p per hour is not the only reason or, we would suggest, a major reason why security staff resign. Other significant factors include a perception that the company isn’t interested in them or improving their knowledge and career prospects, and a feeling that they are in dead-end job that isn’t appreciated: just a warm body in a uniform. Good supervisors and managers can help combat this negativity by guiding, mentoring, appreciating and acknowledging the individuals who make up their team, and creating the opportunities that allow people to demonstrate their skills, gain new ones and make a positive contribution to the operation and its bottom line. That contributes significantly to job satisfaction, which greatly assists retention and reduces absenteeism.

So how do we encourage supervisors and managers to cultivate a motivated and loyal workforce? Here’s a radical suggestion – make them individually accountable for staff turnover. Include an analysis of turnover in every supervisor’s appraisal. Reward those who can control it and probe those who suffer high levels of churn. But before you do, look at the company’s responsibilities:

  • Have you given your supervisors the tools to be effective people managers?
  • Have they been coached to develop leadership skills?
  • Do they understand the dynamics of teams and the recognition of individual strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are they able to offer effective coaching and mentoring because they have been trained to do it properly?
  • Or were they simply good security officers who were rewarded with promotion, but not trained in the skills they needed for their new role?

As we have already discussed, investment in training can be recouped in good quality contracts.  It also pays dividends in other areas – the latest Populus research here in the UK reveals that companies that invested in their workforce saw recruitment costs fall by half, and Australian research* found that in some companies staff turnover reduced by 70% when a training programme was introduced,  in itself resulting in a 7000% return on the investment. The same study showed that one retail company reduced staff turnover by 37% after training its store managers in people management.  “That’s all very well” we hear you say “But our existing contracts don’t include a contribution to training.” Well, putting aside the question of “Why not, shouldn’t you be talking to your sales teams?” there’s a wealth of financial assistance available to help employers invest in training their people. In addition, some programmes, like the new Security Practitioner qualification consist of in-work coaching and others are designed for distance learning that does not require costly hours spent in the classroom.

If we really are going to “Build the future” then training, at all levels, has to be the mortar that holds the construction together.