Pandemic Transitions Security Hiring and Training to the Digital Sphere

March 2, 2021
COVID-19 has accelerated the implementation and optimization of these processes

While much of the work security officers do is in-person, their hiring and training processes are now largely virtual due to the pandemic. From the interview and onboarding stage to the content and methods of training, much of the security industry, like other sectors, has gone digital to adjust to pandemic-related restrictions. If companies utilize available technology and tools, this transition can create an even more efficient staff of security officers. However, during such a critical transitional period of swift change, there are many pitfalls one must avoid to be successful. 

The top security companies have been working on digitizing many of these processes during the last few years, increasing options for teleconferencing and online training long before the pandemic. The rapid emergence and spread of COVID-19 have simply accelerated the implementation and optimization of these processes across entire workforces.

Hiring and Onboarding

While COVID-19 has brought about massive layoffs in certain industries such as retail and hospitality, it has actually led to a hiring surge in the security sector for several reasons. The first major factor stemmed from companies needing to secure newly empty or closed spaces. For example, storefronts that had to shut down for months needed officers to protect their assets. Additionally, those essential businesses that remained open could only do so with the introduction of new health and safety measures, meaning many now needed security personnel around to help implement and enforce these protocols.

As demand rises, security companies must ensure that they are continuing to hire candidates who not only fit the standard requirements on paper but also bring the customer service skill set to fit each client’s unique needs, especially as they evolve in the midst of the pandemic. For instance, positions that had once been more observational now may require interpersonal skills in the form of temperature checks and social distancing enforcement. For positions such as these, candidates who have experience interacting with a client’s customers, in addition to guarding, may be better equipped to handle these responsibilities. 

Another change has been the need for more officers with analytical skills and backgrounds due to the swift implementation of new technology and processes such as contact tracing. For these tools and processes to function efficiently, officers must be able to think quickly to process and maximize the available information.

To successfully navigate a hiring boom, organizations also must be able to find, identify and develop talent quickly without sacrificing quality. An added hurdle companies are now facing is the need to do this almost entirely virtually. Many organizations began implementing some level of virtual or digital processes when it came to hiring and onboarding pre-pandemic, but the spread of COVID-19 pushed these efforts into overdrive.

New Types of Training

While all security officers are trained in accordance with local and state regulations depending on where they will be working, alongside any specific curriculum unique to their company, the breadth of training has increased. The COVID-19 crisis has led to two new major areas of education that are now necessary for security officers.

First, there is the need to fully understand new processes and compliance issues in regard to health and safety. This includes PPE and enhanced cleanliness protocols. When it comes to PPE usage, security officers must be trained not only on how they must use this equipment but also on the regulations for other personnel and customers they may interact with so they can properly enforce these guidelines.

Second, with more processes moving to touch-free and digital options, officers must be trained on an array of new technology. Security personnel are becoming more connected digitally to the back office, to their customers’ systems and to security operation centers. Through this connection, frontline workers are required to enhance their situational awareness and report their findings digitally. In terms of new pandemic-related technology and technology-aided processes, a couple of examples include temporal screening which can be done through handheld devices or even integrated video systems, as well as contact tracing.

Methods of Training

Not only have there been changes in the topics being taught, but the methods of training have shifted as well. While in-person education used to be the norm, safety measures no longer allow for large indoor gatherings. Physical distancing rules limit the number of students who can be present in a classroom, and in addition, training facilities have also had to deploy stringent cleaning and sanitization efforts, with select cases where classroom training has been postponed altogether. The solution, of course, has been to move to the digital space.

That shift is significantly easier said than done. For example, many states previously did not allow full virtual training to meet all security requirements; however, given the current environment, these states have either temporarily, or even permanently, altered these restrictions.

With this shift, e-learning and virtual training have been the solution. E-learning systems allow content managers to organize, deliver, and monitor online courses through an end-user interface and are a great option for simpler concepts. Alternatively, virtual training systems allow for instructor-led training that is best for more complicated material or anything that involves a group dynamic. This type of training allows for more interaction and collaboration.

While the shift to virtual training options is necessary for the times, there are difficulties to consider. Among these are lack of candidate and employee access to digital devices, as well as the fact that not everyone is at the same level of digital literacy, which can impact their ability to successfully navigate these offerings. Organizations must take these challenges into account and ensure that all employees are given equal ability to succeed.

Looking Ahead

Much like a pendulum, all extremes tend to swing back to center after some time. While hiring and training may be at nearly 100% virtual right now, there is a case to be made for the strengths of in-person learning and meetings that no Zoom call can ever fully capture. That being said, there is no clear end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic, which means many of these new protocols are likely here to stay for some time.

Another change we may see in the future comes down to cost and efficiency. In the guarding business, the office has become synonymous with training and onboarding of new staff, with large spaces typically being used mostly for this purpose. If these training and ongoing educational efforts are successfully and efficiently moved to the digital sphere, it stands to reason that the purpose behind corporate real estate may see a major shift in the future. Without a need for large training space, how the security industry purchases and utilizes office space may significantly change.

Overall, for security organizations to succeed, they must embrace a variety of digital options and keep a finger on the pulse of client needs. Companies cannot rest on their laurels at a time when so much is changing at such a rapid pace. What will set organizations apart will be their ability to continue to quickly adapt to changing situations and proactively combat new, unforeseen risks. This will be true in terms of hiring and training new employees, teaching veterans new protocols, or even developing innovative technology.

About the author: John Petruzzi is the Executive Vice President in the Northeast Region and Integrated Security for G4S. John is the former Vice President of Enterprise Security Operations at Time Warner Cable.