By David Mundell, Managing Director
There can be little doubt that the face of training in the UK security industry has changed significantly in recent years. With higher client expectations of security providers, expanding risk registers, increased pressure on margins and rising aspirations of those working in security, training has become a key driver of change and quality. Indeed, key thinkers in the industry understand that ongoing training in security is now ‘a part of the job’.
Before regulation, security providers would perform their own basic job training at the recruitment stage, providing quality control and the ability to select candidates for sites based on little more than the impression that was gained during the interview process. The advent of regulation provided the sector with ‘ready trained’ personnel and offered some companies the opportunity to reduce their costs by reducing their own in-house training capabilities or, in some cases, abandoning them completely.
This was not without risk. The sector has seen numerous cases of training malpractice, the most recent being highlighted by the BBC ‘Inside Out’ programme in March, which suggested that thousands of licensed security guards could be working in the UK fraudulently after buying qualifications for cash. While unfortunate, this was perhaps not surprising. Where government funding was made available to training providers for SIA licence-linked training based on candidate numbers and results, this created significant financial incentives to bend and break rules. Security companies who place their trust in the security training sector to provide appropriately trained personnel may well be deploying officers who have not even undertaken the mandatory training. The sector has no way of ever knowing the scale of malpractice, and so the responsibility for ensuring personnel are appropriately trained once again falls to the security company.
One requirement of the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) is that all officers are assessed at the recruitment stage to confirm that they have undertaken and retained their basic training. Usually, significant time may have elapsed since such basic training was completed, as there is no official requirement for annual refresher training. As there is no formal research into the retention of knowledge from the SIA training, it is fair to suggest that this is a sensible first step for anyone hiring security operatives, irrespective of ACS accreditation requirements. This should be followed by a structured ‘training needs analysis’ to identify areas of strength and weakness, informing operational management teams for risk management as well as succession planning opportunities.
Regular refresher training on core security topics should also be considered essential. Again, the ACS audits include a check for the provision of annual refresher training on subjects relevant to the roles being performed, however this could perhaps be considered best practice for all security providers, regardless of whether or not they hold ACS accreditation. The delivery of this training can be challenging. Sites with a dedicated security management structure provide the simplest environment for delivery of training, whereas the single-officer sites are the hardest, especially when these are in remote locations. A common solution is for mobile management to provide toolbox talks to these officers during their mandated welfare visits.
Another solution that is gaining traction in the sector is e-learning. E-learning can either be extremely cost effective or extraordinarily expensive, depending on how it is implemented and embedded into the business. It is true to say that taking ‘old’ and potentially uninspiring content and simply making it available online is not likely to engage the workforce and may indeed be counter-productive if the intention within the business is to develop a true learning culture. Whether the training is delivered face-to-face on site, in a classroom, via e-learning or even using a blend of different delivery methods, the investment required is significant. While arguments may be made for and against delivering training in excess of contractual requirements, they should always be balanced against the costs of no training being provided at all.
Refresher training on certain core topics may be a legal obligation for security providers, specifically in relation to health and safety at work, but training in other areas should also be considered. This might include additional conflict management training, risk assessment or even physical intervention if this is identified as required by an appropriate risk assessment. In this respect, effective training is clearly a cost efficient risk mitigation strategy. Further, if the sector is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as providing personnel that lack the appropriate knowledge and skills to do their job properly, then the harm that could be done is undeniable. Clients would refuse to see the value of guarding services, downward pressure on margins would increase, the industry would fail to attract and retain talent and the progress the sector has made towards ‘professionalisation’ would be rendered useless. Fortunately, this pessimistic view is being countered by our nature as a service industry; we are seeing positive change being driven by the needs and expectations of our clients.
With rapidly evolving client risks, needs and expectations, more is being asked of security service providers in terms of the training they provide. Requests for additional training information in tender proposals is an excellent barometer for how purchasers of security services view the importance of training as an integral part of the service delivery. Typically this will include a focus on customer service, which is likely to be costed into the contract as ‘added value’, increasing costs to the provider in the process. This may be a due to the historical practice of offering limited training on this basis within security tenders which has now been accepted as a standard offering. This may contribute to pressure being applied to expand this commitment further at no additional cost to the client.
This can lead to training being delivered ‘on the cheap’ as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise that is actually counter-productive in terms of the cultural risks it creates and cost management in terms of wasting money on ill-conceived or ineffective training programmes. Experience informs us that there is no such thing as ‘cheap’ training – the measurement should be whether or not the training is effective in bringing about positive behavioural changes to increase client satisfaction while controlling costs.
It is fair to say that clients are not the only stakeholders with an interest in training. As the security industry itself matures, there is internal pressure for training opportunities. Indeed, a number of studies have indicated that those working in the sector have career aspirations that are perhaps beyond those traditionally associated with front-line security personnel. If the industry seeks to retain these people and attract others like them, training and career development opportunities need to be clearly signposted.
Clarity on career pathways is a particular challenge for a security provider. Due to the liquid nature of the sector it would be unwise to make formal commitments to staff where formal training would in some way guarantee career progression. This is dependent on many other factors, not least contract movement and size. It can be challenge for a security business to promote the benefits of gaining formal security qualifications (or indeed funding them) where the business may not be able to provide suitable employment opportunities or if the employees may leave the business under TUPE regulations.
There is little doubt that any security business that is investing in an effective training programme is preparing itself for the future needs of both the market and the industry itself. An innovative training strategy will help to win business, attract and retain quality staff, maintain client satisfaction, build trust and support the growing perception of the sector as a developing profession. Rather than be considered a regulatory or contractual burden, training should be considered for what it is – a widespread benefit to any organisation that, if done passionately and appropriately, far outweighs its investment.