GRAND RAPIDS — Some unique labor issues crop up within the security field.
For many positions, the talent pool directly intersects with that of law enforcement, military and civil service, and while none of those fields is renowned for lucrative compensation, neither is commercial security.
Like many service fields, security companies are judged almost entirely on the employees that represent them. Unfortunately, the narrow labor genre complicates the field’s ability to procure quality employees.
“That’s the golden handcuffs,” explained Jim Blanchard, Guardian Security Services district manager.
“Why someone would come to us vs. going somewhere else boils down to how we go about getting a quality employee that represents our company.”
This can be difficult because, as Blanchard explained, candidates must pass through “a pretty substantive sieve” to qualify for employment with most reputable security firms.
For example, new hires within Guardian’s armored car company have to pass an FBI background check, a state police background check, a credit check and a physical, and they must possess both a chauffeur’s license and concealed weapon permit. That’s before even discussing whether the candidate can fill the job requirements. There’s also the preliminary question of whether the candidate has a value system consistent with the company.
“It becomes a smaller and smaller pool, and now we’ve narrowed it down to people who really, truly have an interest in working in the commercial segment of security,” Blanchard said.
“But we really don’t have a lot of problems finding quality employees. There is a commonality: Many of them have a military background or are reservists, police officers, ex-police officers or candidates stuck on a long waiting list.”
Some firms have found that the best way to attract those employees is by capitalizing on those common interests and offering candidates an attractive exit strategy right from the start.
“I tell them right off the bat that this is not a well-paying industry,” said Sue Chu, vice president of human resources for DK & Associates.
“We try to reward our employees in a different manner. We reward with our training programs and try to be a breeding ground for people looking to further their careers.”
With its principals sharing over 50 years in federal law enforcement between the FBI and U.S. Marshals, Associates is in a unique position to provide in-house professional training comparable to that found in the public sector.
DK understands that many of its employees are waiting for a chance to enter the public sector of law enforcement, so it decided that rather than compete with those employment opportunities, it would encourage and promote them.
Soon after an employee is welcomed into the company, management begins planning that employee’s departure and coaching him or her toward it.
“So often we have employees come to us wondering what’s wrong with them because they have a degree and can’t find a job” explained. “They wonder if there is something wrong with them. We know that they don’t have the skill sets they need to get the job they want, so once they get settled in, we sit them down and help them put together a career path.
“At most companies, when an employee comes in and says they are looking for another job, they get their walking papers,” she said. “We do the opposite; we meet with them and tell them exactly what that job they want is looking for, and we help them to get there.”
Employees receive preferred consideration for internships in the company’s investigative operations. They have the opportunity to work alongside current and former FBI employees and police officers. DK’s current class, a six-month course on detail investigating, had 60 applicants for an eight-person course. Through these efforts, DK alumni have that many more marketable skills to help them get their “dream job.”
Chu said that this emphasis sometimes raises alarm in employees curious as to why their employer is so eager to usher them out the door.
“We just want them to be better,” she said, “for when they are working for us here — and for when they move on.
“When they leave we want them to say they worked with DK with pride and let their new employer know where that great student came from. We’re looking for them to spread our reputation, and reputation goes a long way.”
DK’s most consistent source of applicants has been employee referrals, but reputation has been responsible for attracting its share.
Many times, once that chance becomes available, employees opt to continue working with the security firm on a part-time basis.
“But a lot of them find out that they like the private sector better than they do the public sector,” Blanchard said. “It’s a certain genre that says they want to be a police officer or something like that; that’s all they really want to do. They get put on this waiting list and when an opportunity does come up, it might be in corrections. Now they have a choice: ‘Do I really want to be in a jail environment, or do I want to keep doing something I like?’”
Guards within the armored truck company often times find more of their career goals in driving that truck than in the opportunities offered them in the public sector. They have a route, interact with people and provide a community service. (Guardian had one driver recently go as far as to nab a shoplifter at one of his stops.)
Like DK, Guardian employs many public sector employees looking to augment their income, as well as recent retirees. Others leave the public field for the same reason that some do not pursue their ambition to go into it: They decide that for them, the commercial sector is actually more satisfying and rewarding.
As full-service security companies, both DK and Guardian offer a wide array of other positions.