Canadian Security Magazine

Salary Survey 2011: public image of security top of mind

Neil Sutton   


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.

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.”

Ross McLeod, president of the Association of Professional Security Agencies, agrees with Gulsby that the industry’s most pressing challenges include rate of pay — the most commonly reported hourly rate for survey respondents who identified themselves as guards was $10-$15 an hour — and harmonizing the efforts of the various security companies and organizations.

The security business, particularly in Ontario, has been presented with a number of new complications like training and licensing requirements.

“The time to get a guard trained and licensed has lengthened,” he says. “From the point of view of the individual practitioner, why would you take several weeks to get trained and licensed for a job that pays a relatively low hourly rate?”

But, says McLeod, APSA has “moved the ball further down the field in the last couple of years, mainly because we’ve been hit with such challenges. I don’t think there’s a silver bullet; I think there’s a whole bunch of different initiatives, not just from APSA, but from other associations, to raise the profile and highlight the importance of the security industry.”

Survey respondents were split down the middle on the quality of their working conditions. When asked, “How do you rate your current security employment as a place to work?” 50.4 per cent said “needs improvement” or “average” and 49.6 per cent said “very good” or “excellent.”

Despite that schism, the majority of respondents (72.4 per cent) said they would recommend security as a career to a friend. Some said they enjoyed the variety of work the field affords them, while others said they enjoyed helping people and being a force for good in their community.

“It has been a great career for me and will continue to be so, but I got lucky and worked for the right companies along the way,” said one respondent. “Some of the advantages are in the opportunities to advance and never having any day be the same. The chance to work with great people and clients.”

He added, however, that “the biggest drawback is the wages for security guards. Because of that it is difficult to recruit true professionals or to keep them for very long.”

Gulsby says he can sympathize with this perspective, particularly if guards are asked to pay for their own training. As such, Securitas provides the required training to its guards out of its own budget. “I would say to those young folks: go with a company that’s going to invest in your future.”

On this point, Gulsby and Jagger agree. There are enough options out there, so pick an employer that’s going to give you a fair deal, says Jagger. People who complain that they could make as much as a security guard by working at a fast food joint may have subconsciously already mapped out their future.

“If you’re going to whine and complain about a better deal at Starbuck’s, then go work at Starbuck’s. If you want to work in the security industry, there’s great opportunities.”
Attitude plays a big role in career trajectory in almost any line of work, says Jagger, but that is especially true of guarding. A positive outlook is more important than security experience when it comes to hiring new guards, he says. Experience may actually work against a job candidate if they have preconceived notions of what security means.

“What we’re looking for is 100 per cent attitude and alignment with our core values,” he says.

“The number of victims that come through the door — we don’t hire them. Our whole screening process is designed to try to eliminate victims. That’s an epidemic. If people are looking for reasons why life is miserable for them as opposed to someone coming in and looking at what they can offer — those are the people that move ahead.”

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