From construction sites to stadia, security is a vital part of ensuring that businesses and people remain protected. However, retaining talented employees in the security industry can be a significant challenge. Despite a growing demand for security services in the post-pandemic era, some companies struggle to recruit and retain security officers.
Several factors contribute to these challenges, including low pay, licensing requirements, unsociable work hours, lack of flexibility, overcapacity in certain areas, reduced local job seekers due to Brexit, high levels of workplace violence, and in many parts of the industry, limited career pathways. Compounding this is the demanding nature of the job, competition from other firms, and limited growth opportunities.
Simon Alderson, CEO of First Response Group, argues that addressing these barriers is crucial to attracting and retaining qualified individuals in the security sector, and that in doing so, security firms may need to break with convention.
The recruitment challenge
There were estimated to be approximately around 480,000 working in the UK security sector as of July 2023, compared with around 420,000 in January 2021, an increase of around 60,000. The demand for security services has never been higher however retaining good staff remains a key challenge. Security officer turnover rates are extremely high across the industry, making retention a key challenge.
There are many reasons why retaining staff can be a challenge, and low rates of pay is just one. The cost of entry into the security guarding sector is one key barrier before other challenges become apparent. In 2020, the SIA licence fee was reduced to its original level, and when adjusted for inflation, it is now cheaper in real terms than it was in 2004. However, the associated training costs, including the licence-linked training course and first aid training, have added to the financial burden on aspiring security officers. The number of active security guarding licences and licence applications has decreased in recent years.
There are also costs to security guarding companies in recruitment. Security companies are reporting higher costs annually related to the recruitment and deployment of security guards, including vetting, uniform expenses, training, insurance premiums, and technological advancements, all of which are making hiring expensive.
The industry faces difficulties in attracting and retaining staff, especially among younger individuals and alternative job opportunities are perceived to offer higher pay rates, better benefits, sociable hours, work-life balance, and career progression, often drawing potential security guards away from the industry.
When it comes to pay, a snapshot survey conducted in 2022 reveals that pay rates for security officers generally align with the National Living Wage, the Government minimum for over 23’s, with some increase compared to previous years. The expanded responsibilities of security guards, including facilities management, cleaning, crowd management, and customer service tasks, may have contributed to the increase in pay rates. This makes the profession more attractive. However, real Living Wage Recognised Service Providers such as First Response Group have seen benefits in retention by paying above the minimum required wage rates and choosing to pay the higher voluntary ‘real Living Wage’, the only wage rate independently calculated based on the real cost of living. Elsewhere, across the sector the minimum wage or National Living Wage offered by many security firms is leading to high staff turnover and retention problems. Furthermore, security officers typically work 12-hour shifts, and some view the profession as a temporary source of income while seeking other career options.
Addressing recruitment and retention challenges
To tackle the recruitment and retention challenges in the security guarding sector, security firms must consider several key measures. These include increasing salary levels to retain experienced staff, establishing clear career paths within the industry, improving the public perception of security officers, offering flexible working hours and shifts to attract a diverse workforce and enhancing accessibility.
Looking at the working environment and the culture of a business, fostering happiness in the workplace is a key factor and one that we strive for. A positive work environment plays a pivotal role in retaining staff, as does a culture that promotes teamwork, open communication, and mutual respect. Encouraging employee involvement in decision-making processes and recognising their contributions can boost morale and create a sense of belonging. Moreover, promoting work-life balance, providing comfortable working conditions, and offering fair compensation packages are vital in retaining employee loyalty, long term engagement and career aspiration.
Security firms should also invest in the professional development of their staff members. Offering training programmes, workshops, and certifications not only enhances employees’ technical competence and skills but also demonstrates the company’s commitment to their personal growth and advancement. Providing opportunities for progression within the organisation, such as promotions or lateral moves, ensures that employees see a clear path for career development. By investing in their employees’ growth, security firms can foster loyalty and reduce the likelihood of staff turnover.
Offering competitive compensation and benefits is crucial in fostering a committed, long-term oriented workforce. Security firms must regularly review and benchmark their salaries against industry standards to ensure they remain attractive to employees. Paying above the National Living Wage and championing programmes such as the real Living Wage can be a key differentiator in a competitive market and helps to reduce staff turnover. Additionally, providing comprehensive benefits packages, including health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off, can significantly contribute to employee satisfaction. Recognising exceptional performance through financial incentives, bonuses, or profit-sharing programs further reinforces the value placed on employees.
Recognising and rewarding employees for their achievements and dedication is too often overlooked or paid lip-service to. With imagination and insight, security organisations can introduce formal recognition programmes that acknowledge outstanding performance, long service, and employee contributions. This can include public appreciation, monetary rewards, certificates, or opportunities for professional growth. Such recognition fosters a sense of pride, boosts motivation, and encourages employees to remain committed to the organisation.
Maintaining open lines of communication is also vital for improving staff retention. Establishing regular feedback channels, such as performance evaluations and employee surveys, allows management to address concerns, provide constructive feedback, and to understand the needs and expectations of their staff. Encouraging employees to voice their opinions and actively involving them in decision-making processes creates a sense of ownership and increases job satisfaction. From our perspective, we have frequent check in and wellbeing sessions with our people (from the bottom to the top of the business) which allows us to troubleshoot problems early on and keep staff happy, especially when they are working, like most security officers, on site, with limited day to day contact with head office.
Progressive employers, in our sector and elsewhere, will improve retention in a competitive market by fostering a sense of purpose and significance in their work. Emphasising the importance of their roles in protecting people and property reinforces the value of their contributions. Meanwhile, connecting employees to the firm’s mission and values fosters a sense of pride and loyalty, and -crucially – making them more likely to stay with the organisation!
In conclusion, retaining staff in security firms requires a multifaceted approach that combines nurturing a positive work environment, offering professional development opportunities, providing competitive compensation and benefits, recognising, and rewarding people, maintaining open lines of communication, and, above all, encouraging a unifying sense of purpose.
It is also important to help address the barriers to entry that the sector faces and make it easier for potential employees to afford and want to be part of the sector. By implementing these strategies, security firms can build a dedicated and loyal workforce, ensuring stability, growth, and success in a highly competitive industry.
These attributes may sound obvious, but goodness me, in my experience they are applied far too infrequently, and if we want to raise the tempo and quality of the industry as a whole, we all stand to benefit if we collectively raise the bar on being good employers.
For more information visit First Response Group