5 Ways to Attract Talent to Security

Feb. 16, 2016
Rob Simopoulos has walked the path to a successful security career — here’s how to get others to follow in his footsteps

In 2016, I will reach the milestone of 20 years in the security integration industry. In the eyes of some, I may still be in the early stages of my career, but this milestone has made me ponder how I got here. As I have heard from many industry leaders with similar experience, I “fell” into this industry without even knowing it existed. While many of my high school friends had their minds set on becoming doctors, lawyers or getting a business degree, I was attracted to the path of technology.

After graduating high school in Toronto, one of my friends told me about a program being offered at Sheridan College that taught students how to install and design integrated security solutions. The concept of technology, like security cameras, had me intrigued. I registered and began the “Security System Implementation and Design” program without having any idea of the depth of the industry.

The Program Director and creator, Todd Jeffrey, had been in the security integration business for many years. He had the vision of creating a path to attract students to our unique industry by designing a program that gave the participants all the necessary technical and business knowledge they needed to be successful. This included courses in electronics, construction practices, business and entrepreneurship as well as hands-on training in the installation and programming of access control, video surveillance and alarm systems.

In addition to the classroom course work, there was a mandatory Co-op/Internship program. This internship program was a major key to the success of many of his students. Jeffrey worked diligently to find and encourage local and national security integrators to incorporate students into their business practices as interns. His hard work and dedication ensured that every student was given an opportunity at a reputable company. This gave them the real-life experience necessary to secure a job after graduation.

Amazingly, as a result out of this program, many great leaders still work in our industry today. This includes numerous business owners, vice presidents of large manufacturing companies, presidents of integration firms, project managers and more.

While it has been two decades since I started in the program, I am disappointed to say that we still have a major problem in recruiting young, talented, professionals to our industry. Just like my experience in 1996, most students coming out of high school in 2016 still do not know that the security industry is a viable career choice.

Raising the Industry’s Visibility

A major challenge we are currently facing in today’s marketplace is the lack of qualified technicians — especially IT-savvy individuals — to handle the demand of a growing industry. This is leading to many companies poaching each other’s talent. The number of calls our employees at Advance Technology receive from competitor’s recruiters is extraordinary. Substantial sign-on bonuses and promises of personal use vehicles are just a few of the convincing tactics being presented to lure talent away.

So what can we do to attract people to our amazing industry and avoid taking each other’s talent? Here are five ways:

1. Get to the students. Let’s begin with a grass roots movement by the industry as a whole. The technicians today, and in the future, need to have strong Information Technology training. Luckily, there are many students entering college today who fit this criteria for our future needs. Many of them are perfect candidates to enter our industry but they are unaware of the wonderful career path systems integration can offer. That’s where the grass roots effort is key.

At Advance Technology (ATI), we have been meeting with the career counselors in high school and college programs, attending job fairs and requesting the opportunity to speak to the students about our amazing industry. In addition, there are industry organizations making great strides in the same direction. For example, the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) Education Foundation is funding the IGNITE program (more details at www.nsca.org). This initiative takes young systems integration industry leaders into the high schools and technical schools so they can meet with students and inform them about the great career opportunities available.

2. Apprenticeship and interns. In 2013, Advance Technology launched a successful Internship and Apprenticeship Program led by Kristina Johnson, our Sales Manager and recent graduate of University of New Hampshire. This involved ATI partnering with various school programs and guaranteeing paid internships. The program even extended outside technical roles. We built Internship Programs in each department including Finance, Engineering, Sales and Operations.

Each candidate is required to attend a full job interview, which gave many of these students an opportunity to experience the interview process for the first time. This program has been a huge success. We have had a number of students complete our Internship and Apprenticeship Program since its inception and as a result we have five of these individuals currently employed.

3. Certification. The Sheridan College program I graduated from has been eliminated, but there are many organizations that are working to make programs like it into a reality again. A great example is the Electronic Systems Professional Alliance (ESPA), which was created to establish training and certification for entry-level Electronic System Technicians (ESTs). This program currently has 300 students enrolled at 20 schools across the country (learn more at http://espa.org). We hope that programs like these will help direct more individuals towards great careers at our organizations.

4. Hire a veteran. There is always a strong experienced workforce coming out of the military and into the civilian workforce. Advance Technology has been actively recruiting these individuals to join our organization with positive impact. We partner with state Department of Labor offices that have Veteran Employment Advocate programs with the goal of finding employment for veterans. Most of these candidates come with strong leadership skills and great work ethic. Today, Advance Technology has more than a 20 percent veteran workforce.

5. Be a mentor. Many of us have been lucky enough to have had wonderful mentors who took the time to teach and guide us through this quickly evolving industry. Taking someone under your wing and showing them how to be successful can be a wonderful growing experience for both individuals. Whether you are training a new apprentice technician or a finance intern, you can make a difference and help them succeed. Do not hold back — share your knowledge and experience. Even if you have only been working in the industry for a couple of years, you can give a wealth of knowledge to someone just starting out.

Rise to the Challenge

Sadly, Todd Jeffery passed away about 10 years ago. Many of his students attended his funeral to pay respect to a man who helped propel us to a successful and rewarding career that we might not have even considered for a field. We all can be a part of changing the way we recruit and help to increase our talent pool as our industry grows and evolves.

I challenge everyone to step up as Todd Jeffrey did and make a difference in the security integration industry. Talk to students in your region, build internship programs, talk to the DOL offices, support and learn more about up and coming educational programs and be a mentor to individuals in the industry.

Thank you to these amazing industry people who took the time to mentor me in my early career years: Todd Jeffrey, Bob Halliday, Paul Nickel and Dave Jones.

Rob Simopoulos is the president of Advance Technology, Scarborough, Maine, an award-winning systems integration firm that serves the New England region. 

About the Author

Rob Simopoulos

Rob Simopoulos is the Co-Founder of Defendify, the all-in-one cybersecurity platform that makes cybersecurity possible for Small Business. In his 20+ years in the security industry, he has received awards and recognition from many trusted industry experts and publications. Email him at [email protected].