The Security Industry and the Struggle of the Security Careerist by John Sephton

The UK security industry has come on leaps and bounds since the 80’s-90’s and there has been a large push towards professionalising the industry. The professionalisation stems from removing the military type uniforms to a more corporate and business orientated outlook. The knowledge that you now require is more business orientated and the skills to understand the client’s business before administering security advice.

The systematic abuse of power that the old guard had from the “old boy’s network” or “open gates for mates”, has in the main disappeared but is still around, and this is a frustration for the people who join the industry as a first career and want to progress.

The main perceived struggle of the security careerist is that if you didn’t come from a certain armed forces background, blue light service or masonic lodge you were not going to progress easily. This is where the real problem lies within the industry, and why people give up trying to progress and motivation drops when they perceive this barrier exists. There is also the case of low pay and long hours which in turn pushes out a certain attitude from the security officers, and this attitude perception is pushed in to the clients minds and the circle of defeat starts.

However, there are security companies out there that are pushing the boundaries of pay and benefits for security officers which is a good push in the right direction, but what is lacking from the industry as a whole is a structured education and career path for the dedicated ones that want to become a careerist. If we can make a universal career path with different skills needed along the way this can be a win-win.

There are barriers within the industry and there is work commencing to ensure a more diverse and inclusive culture on positions and opportunities. However, until the old style decision makers are replaced with the new breed of security professional the unconscious bias will still remain. The barriers are created through the old ways of thinking, as before if they are ex police or military they must be better security professionals than a security careerist. This is not the case! Police, military and security are different areas with a slight cross over in skills and knowledge. There is also an unconscious bias towards social and economic backgrounds and dare I say it, race and sex. Now all these issues are coming to light and rightly being addressed, but remember these are massive issues and won’t be cured over night, but small progressive steps toward an inclusive and diverse workforce will only benefit the industry and one we need to strive for.

Another barrier is the officers own view of themselves and the knowledge they have coming into the security industry. Are they just ill-informed or “jacket fillers” as they are fondly known or have they just not had the correct guidance and mentorship? A diamond is made from pressuring coal! If you can’t see the diamond in yourself then everybody will see the coal and not a glimmer of what you could become.

We see new comers every day just go on their SIA course and given a badge and then forgotten about. In turn a lot of these individuals are destined to be unmotivated, undisciplined and not see it as a career just another body turning up to fill a gap. Then when you put the motivated, ill-informed officers in front of a client and the bad perception starts, and the barriers remain it is a viscous cycle, and one we need to change.
The change needs to come from the officers themselves to go out and gain the knowledge and strive for more. Their attitudes must change from a “must do” to “can do and want to”. When the officers have this attitude then it is down to the management to ensure that we give them good advice and ask them what they want to do with their careers. If we don’t know we can’t help and they might not know what is available out there in terms of progression and courses. Communication is key here.

Why chose a career within the security industry and how are you going to keep motivated to excel your career? This is purely down to the individual and their outlook for career progression, firstly we need to get rid of the internal bias that you believe is keeping you back. If you believe there is no hope then you will live out this fantasy and not try to improve your prospects. Important to note here is that you can be your own worst enemy in your career development and get hung up on the bravado of knowing a siloed version of security.

As a security professional we will naturally stick to one area of security which we feel comfortable, and claim to know about others but have no professional competence or knowledge in it. Why do we do this? The natural way forward is understanding that a security professional is a rounded practitioner of all and a master of one area. You can’t claim to be a risk professional if you do not understand the process of risk, but as you know, security and risk go together, so you label yourself a security ‘risk’ professional but it may not be true. This outlook will not enhance your career as it is just a title and if you cannot deliver on the title the it is useless. There is an absolute difference between a building health and safety risk assessment, a security risk assessment and a business impact analysis, do you know what that is? If you do not then go out and learn, read and ask questions.

To progress in the field of security and be seen as an all-round practitioner you need to read and study into other areas of security. There is a very limited but professional skill set for manned guarding professionals and the further you progress in it the more your business acumen is needed to improve, especially in the manned guarding sector.

The struggle of the security careerist is that the security management position is getting slowly eroded into a facilities management role and not a role about risk anymore. You see it all the time where the front of house security officer is now the building manager who logs the defects and sorts out the facilities, this isn’t a security role.

It may be reflected in the day-to-day jobs of your security team, are they spending most of the day filling a facilities administrator role or are they doing their jobs? If it is the case then steps need to be suggested to the client to enable your team to fulfil the role they are hired for, security and not a FM administrators’ role.

The how is what you want your overall career to become and as a security careerist it comes at all levels. I wrote an article on LinkedIn called “some people just aren’t Capt Picard” and it sums up that not everybody wants to be promoted and are happy drifting or just being where they are at. There is no problem with not progressing as long as you are doing it because it makes you happy, and not because you feel that is all there is and there are not any opportunities.

One of the main changes you need to make is to get out of what I call the client subservient mindset, and see your role as a consultancy role. You are there to advise on security threats, give advice and make sure your site is fully manned and trained. It is down to the client if they take your recommendations on board, and it is easy to get frustrated by constant declines, but as a professional you need to remember that your role is only advisory and not the law. If you have advised them of any changes or threats and they say no then that is now on them but make sure you add any threats or potential problems to the risk register.
If you adopt this new mindset, it will free you from the client is always right mentality that can stop you from being a professional with independent thought and getting dragged into a role that isn’t yours. If you are in the client subservient mindset then it means you are constantly chasing your tail or trying to fill in gaps outside of your job specification. I will caveat this by saying that you don’t totally disregard your clients wishes, but do take a minute to step back and remember you and your team are there for a reason. As a professional you do not mind helping out a client or another department but not when it is at the expense of your own work and responsibilities. It is really easy to be swallowed up in other tasks and roles outside of your job because you like the client, but at some point you will be failing at your role, eventually something has to give.

Understanding Culture
Culture, this is another flaw with just about everybody in a new security management role, and it is the failure to understand client culture and trying to enforce your own vision of what security should look like for them. I agree that improvements may need to be made but there is a way to do this without upsetting the balance of the site and the client. That is small incremental steps!

You have to try to understand the drivers of security and what makes your client tick and this is the only sure-fire way you will add value and be respected. Failure to understand the client is a failure in your post, and you need to actively listen and engage your team to the client’s culture and not to try to push your version of utopia on them.

To understand the culture is to engage, listen and ask questions, then you can sort out the risk registers, risk assessments, the teams and make a valuable contribution. The key thing here is to get the stakeholders thoughts and try to actively get them to contribute to security rather than fight it. Once you have the client on your side you can then start reviewing the team and making the incremental changes.

Getting the team culture on site right starts at the recruitment process with the job description. It also means getting the clients thoughts on what they expect for the role. Now some clients may just let you get on with recruiting, but you need to remember what the culture is and who the best performers are. If you have some really good performers in the clients view, then make a list of their characteristics and see if this can be added into the job description for a requirement. Ultimately though the culture is started from the leadership and that is you.

You are responsible for your career path and direction. If you chose not to be proactive then you will stay where you are, when this happens then it is your fault and not the companies. The company will not know if you are wanting to progress and will leave you where you are. Say something, reach out to other professionals, get on LinkedIn, join a professional membership body in your area of security, change jobs if you have too, update your skills and knowledge, be accountable for your presentation!

If you wish to connect with me on social media please do or if you have a question please reach out.

John Sephton

John is currently a Director with Axis Security and is on the board of the UK Security Institute. A driven and vocal campaigner for increased standards across the security sector and with a rapidly growing profile across social media, he has recently been named one the the industry’s top 25 influencers by the International Security Journal (ISJ magazine.) John is a regular contributor to TPSO and is featured in the International Security Industry Champions list, elsewhere in this magazine.