The twin pillars of the security industry
March 2014, BLUE LINE Magazine - by John Dewar
Security guarding operations have been around for a long time. Allan Pinkerton started his famous company in 1850, perhaps the first recognizable forerunner to today’s increasingly competitive security sector. Security guarding companies today still wrestle with the dual tasks that plagued Pinkerton in the 19th century: recruitment and training.
The sector struggles with the misinformed perception that many security guards are unskilled, poorly trained and ill equipped to be much more than glorified hall monitors in a sleepy suburban office building. Although wrong, this image is prevalent and must be changed; recruitment and training holds the key.
The people we recruit and how we train them is of primary importance at Commissionaires. Not everyone can qualify. We are always in recruitment mode in Ottawa region, one of our largest operations, and have a steady flow of inquiries from people seeking employment. They find us through word-of-mouth, online and transit advertising, or perhaps one of the many job fairs we attend. As well, our mandate is to offer meaningful employment to veterans, so we also provide career transition seminars through the Canadian Forces (CF) to reach those who are considering retiring from the military. We go to where we’re most likely to find future guards.
Last year in Ottawa we had about 3,000 “initial contacts” from people interested in joining. Through our rigorous preliminary screening process, approximately 1,700 of them were deemed to be “prequalified” and invited to submit applications. So before the application process even began, only a little more than half of the initial pool of candidates were permitted to proceed.
Through the formal application process and interviews that followed, more applicants were screened out as unlikely candidates for success. In the end, of the 3,000 “initial contacts,” Ottawa hired only 532 new guards, many CF or RCMP veterans. This is not surprising. Veterans have the skills, experiences, discipline and attitude to make the smooth transition to security work. We’ve known this since 1925, when Commissionaires began in Canada.
We would have liked to hire more but know that lowering our entry standards ultimately fuels the industry’s image problems rather than solving them. Hiring marked the end of the recruitment phase but just the beginning of the all-important training phase. There’s a lot for raw recruits to learn and understand before they ever get anywhere near the job site. Training is what allows a security guard to exceed clients’ expectations, day in and day out.
The Canadian Corps of Commissionaires invests heavily in the training process. It takes time, resources and a commitment to the long view. New recruits go through a rigorous and demanding training program that includes, depending on provincial requirements, more than 60 hours of training, usually in the classroom, including first aid. Final exams are written and must be passed with a score of at least 75 per cent. In some provinces, licences are required so another exam is written and passed. Our training exceeds all existing provincial requirements and actually meets the national stipulations of the Canadian General Standards Board.
The training does not end when new guards reach the job site. There is also on- site training to ensure classroom learning is applied on the job and to ensure that guards are trained on site-specific requirements.
Ongoing training is part of our culture, particularly for those who rise through the ranks to supervisory, consulting, or other management roles. Investing in training is the price of leadership in the security sector.
Another challenge the industry faces is attrition. Many security companies are always recruiting, not to respond to a growing client list, but because they constantly lose guards to other jobs that might pay a little more.
Beyond the culture of training, camaraderie and professionalism that we’ve tried to create, we tend to pay more and engender a sense that it’s possible to have a career in security rather than just a job. I think it’s working.
Some industry estimates put the attrition rate in the security guarding sector at somewhere between 40 and 60 per cent annually. At Commissionaires, it’s between 13 and 15 per cent, the lowest in the sector. I can’t count how many long service award ceremonies I’ve attended. That is an important measure of our success. In some businesses, managers worry about the cost of training people that then leave the company, but I believe that is inconsequential compared to the cost of not training them and having them stay. Compromising recruiting and training standards is a false economy.
It usually costs time and money to do the right thing, the right way. If the security guarding sector doesn’t place a higher priority on recruitment and training and elevate standards, it will continue to suffer with recruiting challenges and image problems.
Recruiting the right people and then training them better is the key to changing how Canadians perceive security guarding.
We know how to fix this.
John Dewar is CEO of Commissionaires Victoria, The Islands and Yukon Division and chair of the Commissionaires’ National Business Management Committee.
He served in the Royal Canadian Navy, rising through the ranks from sailor to Captain before retiring in 2000.