As the economy has slowly begun to show signs of improvement in recent months, the outlook for security officer jobs also appears to be on a positive growth track in the U.S. and Canada.
According to industry insiders, however, while the job market may be improving, the recession has created its own set of challenges for employers. One of the biggest hurdles that companies looking to hire have to clear is sifting through a large number of applicants for available positions to ensure that the right person is matched with the right job.
"The security officer job market for 2012 we think will be strong. We also think that there will be, because of the fragile recovery and the recession, quite a few applicants for those particular positions," said Jim Gillece, chief people officer and senior vice president of human capital management at AlliedBarton Security Services.
Gillece said that AlliedBarton employs about 55,000 security officers across the U.S. and that the company plans to do "quite a bit of hiring" this year.
Lee Achord, vice president of human resources and recruiting at G4S Secure Solutions, said that one of the good indicators he uses to determine the strength of the job market is how many of his company's more than 100 field offices are going to need to participate in upcoming local job fairs.
"I got a big turnout in December. A lot of offices wanted to schedule in advance their participation in job fairs so that to me indicates that they not only have a current need, but they are anticipating that need to increase throughout the year," he said.
Last fall, G4S committed to take part in "Joining Forces," a White House-sponsored program that encourages the hiring of veterans as more troops prepare to return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Achord, the company made a commitment to hire a minimum of 3,000 veterans and they have already more than 1,000 since early November.
"We've had a long, long history of hiring veterans, but when you see 1,300 in the space of barely two and a half months, that's a good indicator that we are doing a lot more hiring," he said.
Garda Security Solutions, which provides guard services across a variety of vertical markets in Canada, expects to add nearly 2,000 positions attributed mainly to new contract wins, according to Marc-Andre Aube, the company's chief operating officer.
"As a company we expect to grow and we expect to do that by capturing market share and winning large contracts," Aube said.
According to industry experts, there are also several vertical markets that could see an uptick in the hiring of guards in 2012, including in the healthcare, higher education, government, petrochemical, and critical infrastructure sectors. While many of these industries have traditionally hired their own guards, Gillece said that many of them are now looking at hiring contract guards as a way to offset their costs.
"Across the security industry and across this general economy, there are certain verticals and sectors that are under significant price pressures," said Gillece. "Many of these sectors have been proprietary, but as more and more cost pressures get placed on them, like every other sector they're looking to provide value and seek value."
Achord said that the manufacturing and banking verticals have been particularly strong for G4S.
"A lot of the verticals G4S serves have regulatory compliance issues that are important to understand. Our customers are looking for that higher-level security officer and training program that G4S provides," said Lew Pincus, senior director of marketing and communications for G4S. "It begins by recruiting the right candidates who have a certain level of discipline and leadership skills as sort of the raw material to then be able to receive the required training to go out and be a well-trained, highly skilled security officer. So many of our recruits begin as security officers but then through career development their job becomes more of a profession rather than just a security guard job."
One of the big factors impacting the job market in Canada is an increase in construction that is being driven by new natural resource developments. In Alberta, for example, Aube said that the market for security services is growing extremely fast due these natural resource projects.
"When they establish (these projects), they have to create this huge infrastructure requiring a lot of security," Aube said. "Once the construction is completed, security guards will typically remain on the site to control the traffic going in and out."
In addition to having traditional skills, Gillece said that modern day security officers must also possess good communication skills as they are often times the first point of contact for someone visiting a client's facilities. For those thinking about entering the guard market, he recommends that potential candidates maintain a friendly and professional demeanor, be punctual and be able to communicate during the interview process.
In many cases, security officers will also need to have or develop specialized skill sets depending on the sector of the employer.
"The specialized skills really relate back to the particular client. Going into an interview process, having those experiences or being educated around some of those verticals and the security needs around those verticals really gives a potential candidate a leg up," Gillece explained. "Furthermore, some sectors such as the defense contractor industry or the government sector, they may require special security clearance and in some cases unique and specialized licenses. So, it's important as a potential candidate looking for a particular role or position that they really understand and look at the job description to find out the specific characteristics and/or license or requirements the security company is looking for."
While it's important for security officers to have good customer service skills, Pincus said it is just as important for them to be able to fit into the corporate culture of the organization they work for.
"Shared values is a term I'm hearing more and more when speaking with customers," he explained. "They are looking for security officers and a company that have a lot of the same shared values and skill sets that go with it. Fitting in culturally with the organization and having shared values seems to be more important these days."
Over the last several years in Canada, Aube said that one thing that has had a big impact on the job market is an increase in government regulation of security officers.
"Where like say five years ago or two years ago, the permit or license to operate was the property of the companies," he explained. "The government has changed this and now it is the property of the employee and they need to get their own training. Before it was the responsibility of the company to provide training, now it's the government issuing the permit or license to an individual that needs to do longer and more rigid courses to get their licenses."
Aside from the economy, another factor that has had an increasing impact on the job market for security officers, according to Gillece, is an increase in various regulations and awareness in some sectors following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"The mission is to serve and secure the people, homes and businesses of our communities. The impact of 9/11 continues to be felt around the country," Gillece said. "As we get more sophisticated about protecting our infrastructure, our communities, our homes and our businesses, regulations will follow along with industry standards and guidelines. I think they are having a very large impact on the demand for security officers. And I also think too, that the general perception of a security officer is going through a genesis and as we get more sophisticated in the standards and requirements continue to improve and increase throughout the industry, the employee that we're looking to attract and hire to serve our clients, that bar will also continue to rise."
Pincus said that security officers are also now expected to do much more than they did in the past.
"Today, we have to provide a level of security officer that can not only be the guard at the gate, but also have that concierge skill set and be able to do security and safety inspections while on guard tours and identify safety and risk issues throughout an organization. I think there is an opportunity for security providers to become a bigger more valuable part of the corporate process," he said.
Innovations in security technologies such as video surveillance and access control have also had an impact on the duties of security officers; however, industry experts agree that the utilization of technology is not a substitute for having a well-trained guard.
"The technology is only as good as the people that are using the technology," Gillece said. "The technology will continue and probably increase the level of sophistication and demand on our security officers to protect our clients."
Because so much of a guard's duties are now related to managing equipment, Aube said that guards now really need advanced computer skills.
"We are asking a lot from our people to document their actions so they need to be competent using software and managing the equipment under their control," he said. "There is a lot more equipment to manage. Where a guard ten years ago had one or two cameras to manage with one screen, now he has software with 50 cameras and gates that can open."