Canadian Security Magazine

Salary survey results: Do certifications matter?

Neil Sutton   


Compensation, particularly at the entry level, continues to be top of mind for Canadians working in security, according to the annual Canadian Security Salary Survey, but long time professionals indicate that the best earning security jobs are reserved for those with a commitment to continuous education.

The survey, sponsored by Commissionaires, was conducted in September and October this year and emailed to subscribers of Canadian Security enews. There were a total of 453 respondents. Of the respondents, five per cent said they make less than $20,000 annually; 32 per cent said they make $20,000 to $50,000; 33 per cent said $50,000 to $80,000; 21 per cent said $80,000 to $110,000; and almost seven per cent indicated they make more than $110,000. The most common responses to job category were security manager (26.1 per cent) and security guard (25.6 per cent).

The three most frequent responses to the question “What is the most pressing workplace issue for the security industry?” were: benefits/pension (14.6%); new licensing requirements (17.5%); and career opportunities (25.2%).

Write-in responses to the same question indicated strong concerns about wage levels, both current and potential future earnings. One respondent said that security has “very poor pay considering the responsibilities. Pays about the same as flipping burgers at McDonald’s.”

But people who perceive security as a McJob are the ones who are less likely to rise above entry level salaries into the higher wage brackets filled by supervisors and managers, says James Phillips, who teaches in the Law and Security Administration Program at Conestoga College in Waterloo, Ont.


Some people are under the impression that they can walk into a supervisory job once they’ve completed the two year program. Students are quickly disabused of the notion that security is an easy ride, says Phillips. He encourages them to work in the industry while they are earning their education to temper their salary expectations. “We encourage them to get in at the ground level and see what the industry is like and have a very good understanding of reality.

“You get people who walk in the door and want $15.00 an hour and they haven’t invested in their career at all. I think it’s like any industry — and this is what people haven’t realized — the more you invest, the more you get out of it. Just like a mechanic.”

Of the survey respondents who identified themselves as being security guards making an hourly wage, 45.5 per cent said they make $10-$15 an hour; 13.6 per cent said $15-$20; 37.5 per cent said $20-$30.

Christina Duffey, director of customer service for Toronto-based Paragon Security, started her career as a guard, working in Phoenix and Chicago. She says she has worked her way up the career ladder over the years by continuing her education, eventually earning an associate’s degree with a major in criminal justice and a bachelor’s degree in commerce from Chicago’s DePaul University. The latter helped her get better acquainted with the business side of the industry.

“As I got my degrees and certifications, the salary came with that. It took me to a different level in terms of my compensation,” says Duffey.

“You’ve got to create a way of life where you continue your education, whether that’s with formalized education through a college or just attending seminars. You have to stay current within the industry. Technology changes so much. You’ve got to stay aware. The only way to do that is to stay networked and continue your learning,” she adds.

“It doesn’t matter what level you are, nor if you’re contract, in-house, a senior executive or someone who’s coming out of college — you’ve got to have a commitment to life learning if you want to excel in this industry.”

Michael Allen, manager, security, national programs, at Oxford Properties, agrees that the most successful people working in security are typically self-starters. Allen, who also started out as a guard, says it’s all about seizing opportunities. His advice to recent graduates of security programs: “Their work ethic and behaviour will take them a long way. Security management is a very challenging field. You have to smile and carry a big stick. It’s a tough balance.”

Allen credits some of his success to his pursuit of security certifications. He holds the distinction of being Canada’s third (40th globally) triple certified ASIS professional. He recently obtained his PCI (Professional Certified Investigator) adding to his CPP (Certified Protection Professional) and PSP (Physical Security Professional).

According to the Canadian Security Salary Survey, a large percentage of security workers take a somewhat dim view of certifications like the CPP. Less than half of respondents (43 per cent) hold some kind of professional designation. (Of those that do, the most common are CSO (certified security officer) and CPP.) Moreover, 58 per cent of certification holders, said that their designation has a negligible impact on their income or none at all.

John Harrison, who teaches at Ottawa-based Algonquin College’s corporate security and risk management program, says the accreditation system in security is fundamentally flawed. Organizations like ASIS may award certifications like CPP, but there is no officially sanctioned body that confers professional status on security workers, unlike the medical profession where doctors earn an MD before they are allowed to practice medicine.

“The public doesn’t think we’re professionals because we do not emphasize the educational credentials necessary to be recognized as professionals in Canada and elsewhere,” he says.

Harrison believes there should be more security programs offered by colleges. “There should be a dozen more and there should be some full-fledged security programs at universities. That’s where the future lies. Until we do that, all we’re doing is awarding CPPs to ourselves and congratulating ourselves.”

One survey respondent agreed with Harrison’s perspective, writing: “While I feel that I have received enough training, both on-the-job, and in a classroom, to perform my job safely and effectively, I strongly believe that there needs to be an industry standard when it comes to training, as there are a lot of security guards who are literally licensed, given a uniform, and put in positions of authority, and in potentially dangerous situations.”

Allen says that, like a great many credentials, it’s more about how you apply a security certification than its intrinsic value.

“For myself, for example, I knew that I would try to move in from an operational security role to national corporate role. To make that transition, I had been looking at job descriptions for a couple of years, studying that trend and noticing that more and more, you couldn’t get the job without the designation, or it was a really nice (thing) to have.”

Earning a designation may not give a pay bump overnight, he says. Your employer may not be able to “suddenly give you a dramatic pay increase — like some of my colleagues are looking for — once they get their CPP. It’s not the business model; they’re not being realistic.”

Sometimes to move into a new income bracket, you have to leave your current job and find a new employer who places value on those types of designations. Allen says he has been able to earn bigger bonuses through earning certifications by tying them into his yearly objectives.

Having worked in both the U.S. and Canada, Duffey says she has seen a difference in attitude towards certifications, particularly those issued by ASIS, a U.S.-based organization.

“In Canada, I will admit I’ve seen a little bit of a difference with that, mainly because I don’t see as many people as certified as there are in the U.S. It’s still valued but there are fewer (Canadians) that carry that designation.” According to ASIS, there are approximately 6,300 CPPs worldwide, 360 of them from Canada.

Phillips says he encourages his students at Conestoga College to earn the CPP and urges them to rub shoulders with members of both ASIS and CSIS by attending meetings and getting to know senior security executives.

“The students that do everything we say get those (better paying) jobs. So students who are working while they’re at school, the students who get use of force and handcuffing, the students who go to CSIS and ASIS and meet the managers and owners. I just find that people do not put in the time and effort and investment into their career. They see this as a jump-off point and if you continually see it like that, you’re not going to go far,” he says.

Despite their reservations about the earning potential of security and opportunities for training and advancement, salary survey respondents still take a largely positive view of the industry. Seventy-five per cent said they would recommend security as a career to a friend. One respondent summed up the industry this way: “Depending on the circumstances, a person can make a career in security as long as they are willing to start and the bottom and continually improve to make something out of themselves.”

Another said: “For someone with the appropriate skill set this can be a rewarding career.”

The hard truth is the industry is never going to pay its workers massive salaries because security departments protect assets, they don’t generate revenue, says Allen, “nor do we break even. We have to be realistic. If I want to make tons of money, I’m going to change professions. I’m not going to beat up on this industry.”

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