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Illustration by Taylor Callery

Guard Training Programs: A Development Guide

One of my first experiences with workplace training occurred when I was employed as a roughneck on an oil service rig in 1986. No training was provided, and so the rig was rife with accidents and near misses. Whenever I asked the rig manager why we were doing something, he would curse me out and tell me to shut up.

After a few months, the manager pulled me aside and told me that if I did not figure things out soon, he would fire me. I told him I would learn faster if I received some training. He ignored my comment. But as it happens, I had learned enough to keep my job, and when a new man was hired to my four-man rig, I took it upon myself to train him.

In two weeks, I taught him everything I had figured out the hard way over the previous few months. When he was fully trained, the rig manager, who had watched the entire process from five feet away, took me aside.

“I knew I was right in threatening to fire you,” he said smugly. “It obviously motivated you.”

I learned two things from this experience. First, training is a powerful preparation tool that can also save time and sustain a safe working environment. Second, not all managers are leaders.

Skills and Competencies

Besides being a powerful preparation tool, training is also a complex process. Most jobs, including security guarding, are complicated, so to train for them successfully students need to learn and understand both foundational and task-specific skills.

For example, writing a security incident report is a complex process requiring verbal and communication skills; the ability to gather and analyze various pieces of information; the ability to structure that information in coherent order; the ability to understand potentially complex legal issues; and an understanding of the investigation process.

Learning skills such as these can be viewed as a process of achieving competencies. As defined by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Human Resources Department, competencies are “observable and measurable knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal attributes that contribute to enhanced employee performance and ultimately result in organizational success.”

The ASIS Foundation, working with the University of Phoenix and the Apollo Education Group, created an operational security industry competency model in 2014 and later refined it in 2018. The competency model consists of several layers, starting with personal effectiveness—which includes interpersonal skills, integrity, initiative, adaptability, flexibility, reliability, and an interest in lifelong learning.

Above this first layer are academic competencies, which include security fundamentals, business foundations, and critical thinking. At the third level are workplace competencies, including teamwork, strategic thinking, problem solving, and working with technology. The fourth level consists of industrywide technical competencies. The fifth level consists of industry sector functional areas, and the sixth consists of occupational competencies and requirements. All six layers can inform a well-rounded and effective security training program.

Training Program Development

All aspects of security require personal and professional competencies and skills. Security occupations are challenging and complex, whether a security officer is de-escalating a potential workplace violence situation, a security manager is building a comprehensive operations management program, or a chief security officer is developing a global security plan. Training and education are necessary.

While some skills needed for security may be transferable from other occupations, other skills are not. They can only be learned either in the classroom or in the field—preferably both. However, since most organizations do not have the time to wait for their employees to learn through trial and error, many skills are best learned in a training program.

The first step in developing a training program is to identify the intended outcome. For example, if a security officer requires patrol skills, then it is necessary to identify specifically what he or she needs to be able to do. Defining necessary skills requires a full understanding of what these jobs entail, and this usually means research. For example, major purposes of patrols include detecting and preventing unauthorized activity, ensuring compliance with organizational operations, inspecting physical security systems, and responding to emergencies. These are all complex actions, and they require specific skills to support them.

Once all this is identified, the next step is the creation and acquisition of course documents for both instructors and students.

Instructor documents include lesson plans, course syllabi and maps, and marking rubrics. One of the most important documents is the lesson plan, in which the instructor details training topics, length of delivery, student activities, resources needed for content delivery, and detailed learning objectives. These learning objectives will focus on achievements such as knowledge acquisition, cognitive skills enhancement, and psychometric skills development.

The marking rubric is the document by which students are graded. A rubric helps both the instructor and student; it provides a road map for the consistent marking of assignments. Finally, course documents can also include participant manuals, textbooks, handouts, technical vendor literature, legislative statements, and presentation material.

Besides course documents, the program may include training tools such as standard operating procedure and enterprise resource planning documents, any relevant legislation related to guarding or other relevant tasks, and personal protective equipment such as uniforms, masks, and weather gear. Any other equipment that the employee is expected to operate should be identified. This may include fire alarm panels, video surveillance, lighting controls, access control devices, and building management systems.

Training Delivery and Adult Learning

Program content creation requires a key decision: how the training will be delivered.

Generally, it is best for students to work in an active learning environment where they have an opportunity to practice skills. This is not always possible due to program limitations; sometimes it is necessary to deliver training in a passive environment. However, results are more likely to be disappointing with the latter method. It is also important to remember that the more time passes between learning and practicing, the less knowledge the student will retain.

When considering content delivery, remember that there are several types of training and education categories, including cognitive, psychomotor, and affective.

Cognitive training is generally considered to be foundational knowledge that provides the “why” of the material. For example, if the student is learning how to operate a fire alarm panel, the training material could include the fire code, the technical fire panel manual, and the standard operating procedures. These documents provide information on how the panel operates and what is expected of the operator.

Psychomotor skills development involves the actual hands-on operation of the fire panel, including how to read the panel, how to answer the fire phone, and how to acknowledge alarms.

Affective training focuses on the ethics of operating the fire alarm panel in the most professional manner possible.

For all three of these categories, it is the responsibility of the trainer to understand the various teaching strategies and tactics available to them in order to best deliver the material. Here it is important to understand adult learning, which differs from child learning in several ways.

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First, adult learners have considerable personal experience to draw upon, whereas children are closer to blank slates. Second, adults have a desire to understand why they need to learn, so they can connect the effort with a desired outcome. Children, for the most part, learn because they are told to.

Third, adults usually require opportunities to self-reflect and internalize the knowledge they are gaining. In contrast, children will make sense of the content through socializing in class. Finally, adults know they learn best in certain ways and tend to stick with those methods, while children are more open to different learning styles. These differences make it necessary for adult learning instructors to deliver training in a variety of ways.

Given the importance of adult learning, program trainers should be required to have formal training (certification preferred) in adult learning and experience working in adult learning environments. Hiring trainers that lack formal training contradicts the program’s inherent message that training is crucial. Given this requirement, the hiring organization should be aware of adult learning opportunities in its region. Many universities and colleges offer adult learning certificates and train-the-trainer programs.

A good trainer should be able to explain how to create a training program, what the learning outcomes should be, and what tools will be used. In addition, trainers should be able to show examples of security training material they have created in the past.

Within the style of adult learning, the trainer may employ a variety of teaching methods, including lecture, discussion, in-class student assignments, reading assignments, class discussion, and fieldwork with practice opportunities. As I learned when I informally trained our new hire as a service rig roughneck, hands-on exposure is one of the most effective methods of skill development training. Providing students with the opportunity to instruct content can also be an effective learning method, but for this to be successful, the instructor must provide the student with sound feedback.

Testing

Following content delivery, the instructor must decide how students will be tested on the material. Will there be immediate follow-up testing? What would that testing look like? Will there be written examinations, hands-on practice testing, or both? Will the tests be individual exams or graded group-based exercises?

This is where the marking rubric comes in handy. The rubric allows the instructor to provide guidance on how students will be tested and what assignments will consist of. Overall, the rubric tells the student what the instructor is looking for, and it lays out a consistent marking scheme that helps the instructor justify the grades handed out. The rubric is the road map for both parties.

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One of the more effective forms of testing is scenario-based, in which students are placed into a realistic work setting similar to one they might encounter in their jobs. This is an example of psychomotor based training, and it offers students an opportunity to practice skills development in a safe setting.

Finally, students can also be tested on fieldwork. Here, the student is required to implement knowledge learned in a work setting. Afterward comes a reflection piece, whereby the student is required to write about the experience—an overview of what did and did not work, what they learned, and what they would do differently. Reflection is a powerful learning tool.

Training Records and Evaluation

Evidence of training is important, so records of training should be retained. This practice serves all involved; the student has proof of course passage, the training program has enrollment records, and the future employer will have proof of training.

One way of keeping training records is through the development of field training manuals that can be assigned to each student guard. The manual can be built around standard operating procedures, and as the student is trained on each aspect of the job, both the trainer and trainee sign off on each component.

Finally, training programs need evaluation, and both the content and the instructor should be evaluated for effectiveness.

One evaluative option is the Kirkpatrick Model’s four-step methodology, in which four questions are asked of the trainer: Did the students enjoy themselves? Did they learn the material? Did the training change the students’ behavior? Did the employer receive value for the training program?

In addition, there are several learning theories that are relevant to program evaluation, because they detail the complex learning process between trainer and trainee. One of these sets out criteria that must be met for the training to be successful, including the students’ physical and mental environment, the reasons that students are in class, and the instructor’s ability to deliver complex themes.

Further Assistance

Finally, there are many reference documents available that may assist in the development of training programs. Some of them include the ASIS International Private Security Officer Selection and Training guideline; the Enterprise Security Competency Model; Security Supervision and Management, Fourth Edition, by Davies, Hertig, and Gilbride; and The Professional Protection Officer, Second Edition, by Davies and Fennelly.

As I learned as a roughneck, training helps employees be more productive, and safer, work smarter and not harder, and enjoy their jobs more. While training is a complex process, a well-developed security officer training program, led by instructors who are themselves well trained, will maximize the chances of success for all involved.

Read more about guard training programs in "Guard Training Programs: Eight Recommendations."

Dr. Glen Kitteringham, CPP, heads Kitteringham Security Group Inc. and has taught many courses for the University of Calgary, the International Foundation for Protection Officers, and The Justice Institute of British Columbia. He has authored or co-authored more than 250 articles, books, and papers on security and life safety.

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