Recruitment and executive search

Peter French on reaching millennials and donating SSR Personnel’s IFSEC 2019 stand to charity

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Adam Bannister is a contributor to IFSEC Global, having been in the role of Editor from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam also had stints as a journalist at cybersecurity publication, The Daily Swig, and as Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
June 4, 2019

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SSR Personnel is an award-winning recruitment and executive search practice dedicated to the security, fire engineering and health and safety sectors.

Founded in the UK in 1986, the company now has a strong presence around the world.

IFSEC Global spoke to the firm’s founder and CEO (and an IFSEC Global influencer), Peter French about the ‘Bright Mind’ initiative, bringing the next generation through, SSR Personnel’s USPs and why the firm is donating its IFSEC 2019 stand to its charity partner.

IFSEC Global: Hi, Peter. You’re very much a global company…

Peter French: We have a global presence. I do liaison work outside of Europe in markets like Africa , Russia, Asia, the Middle East with our Dubai office, North America and Latin America.

Then we have a suite of recruitment services in our UK and European markets.

Anything interesting happening with SSR Personnel right now?

PF: We recruit for roles in corporate risk resilience and various roles within technology vendors in the security market.

But to go from one segment to the other is extremely difficult. It’s a fast-paced environment.

So 20 odd years ago, we decided to train people to really understand the market segments they’re working on. We like to invest in our people.

So we have an initiative we call ‘Bright Minds’ for people who want to be based, or we feel would work well within, a segment of that corporate enterprise risk model. We’ve also been using it on the technology side to introduce people who are bright, possibly directly from university.

Certainly that works well in the analysts’ environment, which again is a big part of our business and growth. So Bright Minds is something we’re promoting a lot this year.

“We’ve now got millennials, generation Z and, in 10 years’ time, Alphas coming through. How do we attract them into our market and keep them developing?”

What are the big challenges for your sector right now?

PF: We’ve now got millennials, generation Z and, in 10 years’ time, Alphas coming through. So how do we attract them into our market and keep them developing?

The crossover between pre-millennials, millennials and Generation Z, when one manages the other, will be interesting. They might be managing other people but not be used to it. Sometimes the social skills are just not there, but they get bonding, they get empathy.

How do we attract the sort of person who isn’t perhaps in that traditional model? Some people now go from place to place and hope positions come back up [at previous employers], whereas traditionally, people thought once you leave you leave, and it’s almost a badge of dishonour to go back. The future is probably less like that.

It’s not all about the salary. We negotiate with analysts more about buying extra holiday pay. They’re more interested in the firm’s ethics and support programmes. We need to be part of that conversation, saying “we can’t see these people coming through, because nobody is investing in them.”

What are your USPs as a recruitment and executive search firm?

PF: We use a state-of-the-art CRM system, which is about us tracking their career and reaching out to them to get them to understand what’s available. People will come to us for advice on training and their career path too.

Our Dubai Office was named Best Security Recruitment Agency in the UAE for 2019 and we won Recruitment Consultancy of the Year at the 2012 Security Excellence Awards.

We like to think we won those awards because of our engagement with applicants, our engagement with the sector, our engagement with our clients. That’s how we’ve lasted [so long].

Meet the SSR London Team at IFSEC International 2019 on the SSR Personnel Charity Partners stand. IFSEC takes place 18-20 June 2019 at ExCeL London (stand F2456). Book your free ticket now.

Peter French (second from left) collects 2012 Security Excellence Award

Being a specialist consultancy, we understand our sector. Many quality applicants are passive. But we have conversations where people tell us: “I’m looking for that next step up, I want to do this,” then we can say “we think there’s something here. It might not be immediately available [but we can keep an eye on it]”.

“I like to think of us as an interpreter between the client and applicant”

And that’s the differential, because I like to think of us as an interpreter between the client and applicant. That’s what we’re striving for and how we can make that seamless.

We’re part of a £900m business and that revenue drives our recruitment services.

We spend a lot of money on systems that will automatically acknowledge applicants because we feel it’s important to respond to every applicant.

We may not be able to help someone today but in five years’ time we might. A lot of our work is executive search and clients want to know we have undertaken due care with applicants. We had a job recently in Algeria and 1,000 people applied, then with some jobs there’s only five people in the whole country [who could do the role].

Because of our size and background we get lots of opportunities to discuss and understand future technologies and issues. It could be Brexit. We are active across the EU.

Can you tell us about donating your IFSEC 2019 stand, how that came about as an idea?

PF: We’ve been there, seen it, done it. We’ve had a presence at most shows. People recognise the brand.

I wanted to do something different, to help other people. So we will be listed as being at the show – the stand will be the SSR Personnel Charity Partners.

We give our time and energy to charity. All of us here support Embrace, which supports child victims of crime. And we would like to see them talking to an audience they don’t perhaps usually talk to.

But myself and a few of our people will also be at the stand. Most people don’t want to discuss their career or recruitment policy on the stand so we go for a cup of coffee in the VIP area or one of the café bars. Therefore I suppose the stand is less integral than if you need to showcase cameras, access control or gates. We deal with intangibles.

So I just thought it would be ideal for the charities to get some exposure, introduce themselves, and they’re very keen to attend.

Are SSR Personnel planning anything else for IFSEC?

PF: We have interviewed a number of people from the security sector and will produce some short video excerpts aimed at students who are maybe considering a career in the security profession. In addition we will be developing for IFSEC Global articles considering the threats and opportunities for security in the near future.

“The Chartered Security Professionals Register is the gold standard for someone who starts off as a security engineer or security officer”

We’re trying to tell students, maybe young engineers: this is a profession you could get involved in. The Chartered Security Professionals Register, which I sit on, is the gold standard for someone who starts off as a security engineer or security officer.

That’s why I was very involved in establishing the register: to give people a cradle to grave [career path] – “you can start from here and that’s where you could end up.”

I think the security profession sometimes does itself a disservice by not understanding that it has something it should be proud of.

We’re getting there. The Security Institute is a really good ally and I think we should take notice of what they’re doing. ASIS in the UK is, again, a very good ally. It’s full of volunteers who actually want to give knowledge to someone else, to give them a helping hand.

So we have mechanisms that a lot of professions don’t have.

Which industry trend do you think is most interesting right now?

PF: AI, automation, robotics: these are things we have to welcome. We shouldn’t be scared of AI.

If it diversifies, it will come with highly paid jobs. We’re recruiting ‘white hat’ hackers on behalf of companies, because they’re fed up of being terrorised by individuals, sometimes for gain, sometimes not. So they’re trying to make it a harder landscape [for hackers].

For those coming through – those late millennials, Gen Z and Alphas – the smart or IoT revolution will be second nature. They won’t know a world without it.

It’s now more about security professionals who are innovators. It could be a budgetary gain, lifecycle gain, a due diligence gain.

The security industry has got to learn to de-man, to embrace the technology. But there is a place for manpower, for giving people reassurance. You’re never going to teach empathy to a machine.

AI is perhaps one reason why security is increasingly no longer seen as a ‘grudge purchase’…

PF: The industry has some amazing champions – directors, chief security officers, directors of risk and resilience – who actually engage thoroughly with their boards and embed good security practice.

It’s only a grudge purchase if you can’t see the value.

You have to maximise your technology usage, and that will help you keep costs down and more importantly, make the person operating around that environment, who has to stand on their feet six out of 12 hours, [more engaged]. There’s got to be something in it for both parties.

In security you have to be respectful, you have to have integrity, you have to have compassion, and above all else, you have to have ethics. And if you don’t fit into any of those you shouldn’t be in the security sector.

Meet the SSR London Team at IFSEC International 2019 on the SSR Personnel Charity Partners stand. IFSEC takes place 18-20 June 2019 at ExCeL London (stand F2456). Book your free ticket now.


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