Learning to Learn by Dr Peter Siernstedt

how to not lose out on an opportunity to upskill

                Earlier this week, on the 24th of July, it was the International Security Officer’s day. The day, appropriately occurring on 24/7 marked the 4th year of official recognition. Over time it has accumulatively drawn increasing attention and this year marked an all-time high. The campaign is now truly an international phenomenon with endorsement from major global organisations such as ASIS International and ISACA, as well as prominent local actors including the Security Institute and the Security Commonwealth. The mounting appreciation may not come as a surprise with the growth in size of the private security sector paralleled only by the concurrent expansion in role and responsibility. The clear-cut separation of public enforcement being reserved only for the state by the police is dissolving and private providers is progressively delivering similar services, sometimes of higher standard.  This development, if properly regulated, ultimately provides public good by aligning private interests with promoting societal security. In these days, with society ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, maintaining civil security and public order is pressing and the private security industry and its officers certainly has a role to play. Moreover, as the old adage goes there are opportunities in every crisis, and in a time where unemployment is high and job security is low what recourse is there for security officers?

                The suggestion here is that this may be the opportune moment to either enter into a new career as a security officer. Alternatively, you may already have a number of years of experience and looking for a way to upskill and advance your career in the field. The good news is that there are organisations such as the International Foundation for Protection Officers [IFPO] (And the Guild of Security Industry Professionals “GoSIP”………… Ed.) that offer a solution. The even better news is that if you are in the UK the IFPO now has a local branch there representing those interests more specifically. A representation that, given the interconnectivity of today, obviously has both European and global reach. Arguably another positive aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic is the increased proficiency in effectively utilising online solutions to communicate. These solutions also extend to education and the concept of an effective virtual learning environment is now the benchmark. So, with an ambition to upskill, a newfound command of online learning technologies, access to the expertise of seasoned educators and practitioners, and an abundance of information and knowledge at your fingertips there is still hesitation. Stemming not from a lack of neither motivation nor intellectual capacity there is something else that causes many to think twice before investing time and money in formal upskilling.

                Formal upskilling is different from informal in that it comes with expectations, not only subjective as in feeling of accomplishment after reading a non-fiction book, but also objectively assessed requirements. Staying with the IFPO example the aspiration could be to either obtain the Basic Private Security Officer certification if new to the industry or to, with pre-existing experience, become a Certified Protection Officer. These industry certifications, and others like it, comes with a test. One that you can fail. To avoid that, there are a number of other, often affiliated or at minimum approved, providers of training aimed at enhancing the chance of success in getting certified. In the UK, comprehensive virtual instructor led solutions are offered through SORGEX (an acronym derived from Strategy and Organisational Excellence). On one hand this seems accessible – delivered online, adaptable – done in our own pace, and affordable – discounted for IFPO members. On the other, the hesitation lingers. For many, the classroom experience, virtual or not, seems far away and if considering postgraduate studies, often non-existent. Therefore, on a more esoteric yet nevertheless fundamental level, the proper skills, knowledge and behaviours to effectively learn from a training course may be lacking.  Learning, however, can be learnt.

                Learning to learn is a solid long-term investment to facilitate both professional and personal development. Although, despite making immediate intuitive sense, it is not uncommon to feel novice to the notion. There is much science behind it but without getting too technical it mainly revolves around something called metacognition. In this context, metacognition can be considered as the, awareness of, analysis of, and ability to regulate the learning processes. To simplify, and operationalise, this further it can be translated into the following three different stages – plan, do and reflect. Consider the oft odious task of reading a textbook. Note, that I am not saying that all textbooks are odious but rather that many are written in a way that does not make for an easy read. Now back to the first stage, plan. Before starting to read develop a strategy of how to read including the associated activities such as note taking and a systematic way to follow up on relevant questions, connections or issues. Then move on to the second stage, do. This is not limited to just reading but also includes the previously mentioned activities, summarising the main ideas of a concept, section or chapter in your own words (as few as possible) is a good way to verify understanding. In the third stage, reflect, both output and outcome of the previous stages are considered. This may be the hardest stage, and may require some practice and getting used to, but it is also the most rewarding in terms of deep learning. To reiterate, before starting devise a strategy, make notes along the process and finally reflect on it.

                Now, how can adding yet another layer of learning that includes strategizing, note-taking and reflecting enhance the ultimate goal of learning what is needed to pass an exam? Perhaps, a somewhat malicious question because the end-game should naturally extend far beyond passing an exam and for most it does (but unfortunately not all). To state the obvious, becoming a more efficient learner has positive implications for continuous and sustained development of skills, knowledge and behaviours. Thus, if you are considering getting certified by IFPO or any other organisation of your choice, do it. If such endeavour also involves a process of learning to learn all the better. As Hemingway once said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self”.

Dr Peter Stiernstedt

Dr Stiernstedt isa lecturer in Criminology at the University of West London. He holds a PhD in Criminology on the Perception of Corruption awarded by the University of Portsmouth. Previous academic achievements are a BSc in Physics from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, followed by an MSc in Security Management from the University of Portsmouth.

Prior to the current academic career Peter was working as a consultant providing Strategic Solutions within the realms of risk, security and crisis. During over a decade of providing high-quality advice, support and solutions, Peter has worked mostly in Europe, and Spain in particular, as well as the US, Russia and China.

Both work and education has provided experience, knowledge and insight into Risk Management, Anti-Fraud and Corruption strategies, Business Continuity and Crisis Management. Peter is an active member of ISACA, the Security Institute and ASIS International.

Disclosure: While the author is a member of the IFPO UK Advisory board, any and all views and opinions presented are proprietary and do not officially represent any organisation or affiliation.