Most security professionals I have met, no matter where they are at in their career, who they protect or what their mandate, they all want to keep learning. It is almost impossible to find a security practitioner who leaves school, completes their training or earns a designation who is content to stop there.
Learning is enjoyable and brings a lot of satisfaction. It can be hard work, challenging and rewarding. Security professionals have several ways to learn. The three E’s are one way to look at this. Education, Experience and Exposure. Learning by experience. These are the lessons we gain by working. Overtime we all accumulate a body of knowledge from repetition. We also learn through exposure. It is one thing to go to school, take courses and spend years on the job. When leaders give their subordinates new opportunities and expose them to different situations, this is exposure. For example, when the director of security sends the manager in their place to a leadership meeting to observe or even present, the manager is exposed to new things and learns something new.
Currently security professionals in the workforce, spanning four generations, have varying degrees of each of these formal and informal learning methods under their belts. There are those with 30 to 40 years of progressive work experience. There are those with 20 to 30 years of experience, college and or a designation. We also have those with 15 to 20 years of work experience who have, a master’s degree and professional certification. The variations to this are numerous.
Professional security officers often continue to accumulate courses to secure, maintain and advance their roles. These may include first aid, emergency response, basic criminal law for security officers and other programs, often found in many licensing courses. Security management and corporate security professionals often earn courses in leadership, management, business and other programs more applicable to the administrative and strategic roles they perform. These may help them advance, or simply meet continuing education requirements they may need to complete annually.
Courses offered by security institutes, associations and private security schools are quite practical. Colleges, universities and even employers offer valuable programs as well.
Developing a learning plan with your manager, Human Resource team, peers and / or mentors is always a good start. Sometimes knowing where you want to take your career, what promotions or even specializations you seek, will help you determine what courses you should be taking. If you’re a security officer who finds that they are constrained by schedules and funding, a professional designation, or even an online university program you can work on over time, may be a good route to consider.
If you’re a leader in the field and find you’re strong in the emergency management body of knowledge and are not so strong in investigations, then you should get out of your comfort zone and study investigations. If you’re a manager who is strong in all core areas of security, however a skills assessment reveals a need for improvement in typing, business writing or public speaking, then get to it. As an executive, courses in leadership, critical thinking, business and understanding the world may be more important to you at this stage.
It is never too late to go back to school and you should always keep pushing yourself to stay abreast of what’s new, and embrace self-improvement. There will be times in your life and stages in your career when you can barely meet your continuing education or re-certification requirements; and times when you’re completely on fire, taking a masters, managing a department and juggling a personal life. These are often the best of times.
In my own youth I took every course that came along. Later you will learn to be a little more selective, as you may need to be. Does this course give me an edge in the job market? Will it improve my value to my employer? Do I receive a certificate or a credit towards a larger learning goal? Is it recognized, accredited or in demand? Look at job descriptions for the job you want, what are they asking for?
I am constantly advocating for a better, more professional security industry and encourage those of you who have completed most of this journey to share your knowledge by writing, speaking, teaching and mentoring. I strongly suggest to all security officers that this can be a very satisfying and rewarding career with many options. By continuously building your resume with practical education, you are in turn investing in yourself and your future. As someone who has hired hundreds of front-line security personnel, I have seen two general officers. Those who came into the workforce with schooling and those without. I can say that I have seen successful cases in both scenarios. Sometimes those who graduated from the school of life or the school of hard knocks can be very hardworking, smart and determined. Although if I had to fill a position and I am looking at someone who has continuously applied themselves, proven they can commit to, and complete, something such as ongoing education, and who has a resume that boasts modern, up to date skills, that is one that I can honestly say will stand out to me, and I am sure that goes for many of my peers too.
Don’t force yourself down a path that you know you will not enjoy and will struggle to be successful at. Never lie to yourself. In reverse, sometimes in our youth we may have one bad experience and are led to believe that we are not good at maths, statistics or some other program. You may be surprised to learn that you are in fact excellent at it and if you really apply yourself, could be great. There are no limits to human potential. We can, and have, achieved many great things. I believe that security professionals are just beginning to scratch the surface.
I challenge you to break the mold, let’s work together to raise the bar for the next generation of security officers and set the standard high for learning, by achieving more ourselves.
Michael Allen CPP, CFE
Michael is a security advocate, futurist and the author of The Chief Security Officer’s Handbook: “Leading Your Team into the Future.” He is the CSO at Manulife and has been named by IFSEC Global as a top influencer in the category “Security Executives” 2019.