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Illustration by Security Management; iStock

Tracking the Elements that Undermine Essential Work

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, security officers and guards were considered essential forces in the protection of people, places, and assets. However, the role is frequently undermined by a variety of factors, including the absence of procedures, low morale, competing demands and contradictory expectations, weak technology, sexism, and poor management, according to recent research from the International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO), conducted by Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International.

The report, The Competence of Frontline Security Professionals and What They Say About Their Work, details the findings from a survey of more than 10,000 security officers or guards across nine countries, as well as one-on-one interviews with 42 security professionals.

Overall, 59 percent of guards surveyed said their jobs provide an opportunity to serve the public, 55 percent said the work is interesting, and 53 percent saw it as a career. However, only 38 percent said that their security roles pay well.

Those who receive ongoing training within their current role more commonly viewed their colleagues to be high in competence than those that do not.

Survey respondents were asked how competent their colleagues were, and most had high opinions of their coworkers—only between 6 and 13 percent of respondents rated their colleagues’ competence as “low.” But at most, 53 percent of respondents rated colleagues’ competence as “high” in any given activity, suggesting there is room for improvement. The skills that were least commonly perceived to be carried out with high competence were working with civil and criminal codes, statutes, and bylaws (39 percent); conducting investigations (41 percent); report writing (42 percent); and written communication skills (42 percent).

“A telling finding was that those who receive ongoing training within their current role more commonly viewed their colleagues to be high in competence than those that do not receive any ongoing training,” says Martin Gill, director of Perpetuity Research and one of the authors of the IFPO report. “This would suggest that ongoing training in particular is an important factor in performing competently.”

The majority of respondents—85 percent—said they do not receive ongoing training, although respondents who require a license for their work were much more likely to indicate they receive ongoing training.

While multiple factors made security jobs challenging, effective management could turn them around. “Ultimately of all the changes that can improve the lot of the frontline worker, the key determinant of their likely success is how good managers are (at all levels),” the report said.

Personal capabilities were also found to be essential for effective frontline work. “There was a heavy emphasis placed on the value of the personal capabilities of the individuals and the relative merit of employers encouraging and developing these capabilities within their security personnel,” the report added. “Specifically: communication skills; social skills; showing self-awareness and being empathetic; to take care of themselves; to show initiative and be professionally curious; to be flexible; and being prepared to learn as change occurred.”

Gill adds, “We are reminded that security work is about people and what are sometimes seen as ‘soft’ skills are no less important.”