Salary Survey 2011: public image of security top of mindWritten by Neil Sutton Monday, 12 December 2011 11:55
Compensation, career options and training opportunities are perpetual concerns, according to the results of the annual Canadian Security Salary Survey, but the most pressing workplace issue for 2011 was the public image of security.
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The survey, sponsored by Commissionaires, was conducted in October. The results featured more than 70 job titles, but the most common were Security Manager (22.1 per cent), Security Guard (12.9 per cent) and President (12.2 per cent). The overwhelming majority of respondents reported that they work in Ontario (62.6 per cent). Second was B.C., with 9.7 per cent.
When asked, “What is the most pressing workplace issue for the security industry?” 16.5 per cent said career opportunities, and 16.9 per cent said remuneration. The most common response was “public image of security,” which was chosen by 17.7 per cent of respondents.
Comments from respondents expressed concern over the stereotypes that continue to haunt security, particularly on the uniformed side of the business — concerns over the perception of security officers as “mall cops” or “rent-a-cops.”
“Security is considered a ‘rent-a-cop’ type operation by the majority of the public,” wrote one respondent, “therefore, has lesser respect. We, as a community, need to strive for an improved reputation.”
Another wrote: “When you say you are a security professional, people draw up an image of the stereotypical, non-flattering ‘want to be’ police officer or the old sleeping watchman.”
But a great many of these stereotypes are perpetuated by the industry itself, argues Mike Jagger, president of Provident Security, a Vancouver-based security firm, which offers a variety of services, including monitoring and guards.
“I think a big part of it is the uniforms,” says Jagger. “The way some companies portray themselves, they’re setting themselves up for ridicule. If your guys are dressed up similar to police or in military-style uniforms, I don’t think that helps your cause.
“Look at any movie or TV show that’s making fun of the hapless security guard and (the way they’re dressed). Why any company would want to intentionally embrace that brand is beyond me.”
Jagger says his guards wear golf shirts and khakis. They drive around in bright yellow Toyota RAV4s instead of Crown Victorias. The choice of attire and vehicle is deliberately meant to distance Provident from the traditional image of security.
“Goofy uniforms invite ridicule. On top of that, you’re asking someone that you’re dressing up in a costume to play this part. There’s just nothing genuine about it. I wouldn’t ask any of my employees to do anything or wear anything that I wouldn’t wear myself.”
Jagger founded his company 15 years ago with a $500 investment on his credit card. He’s taken a different path from some of the longer-established security providers, describing Provident as “a company that’s in the security business” as opposed to a “security company.” It’s more than a semantic distinction, he says — it’s a way to avoid the trappings of traditional security, which can be more of a hindrance than an asset.
Dwayne Gulsby, president of Securitas Canada, acknowledges that the security industry has long struggled with its image, particularly in the eyes of the public. Part of that, in recent years, has to do with the economic downward spiral, he says. If clients, faced with tough times, are looking for cheaper guarding options, then the service is devalued. And some providers are taking shortcuts “just to make a dollar,” which led to the spate of licensing crackdowns earlier this year in Ontario, when the Ontario Provincial Police conducted raids, laying charges for working as, or employing, an unlicensed guard.
A more systemic problem facing the industry may be its lack of organization and lack of a collective voice, says Gulsby.
“For years, people have had conversations with me and my counterparts about us having to change the industry,” says Gulsby. “Unfortunately, very much like any services company, the only way we’re going to change our industry is collectively. As fragmented as we are, that would be extremely difficult. Or the change will occur when our buyer sees the benefit of the change. When we start being lumped in as a commodity, and differences aren’t realized by the end user, then change won’t occur.”
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