Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading resource for security and fire news in the industry. James was previously Editor of Professional Heating & Plumbing Installer magazine.
August 6, 2020

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IFSEC Interviews...

Security personnel and adapting to the ‘new normal’: Peter French, SSR Personnel

IFSEC Global recently sat down with Peter French, CEO of SSR Personnel, to discuss the impact COVID has had on those employed in the security sector. We also discussed the changing face of the industry and skillsets it requires, as well as why employers need to be placing greater importance on mental health. 

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Peter French, CEO of SSR Personnel

It goes without saying that every industry has felt the impact of COVID-19. Whether it has resulted in a different way of doing business, temporary closures, or adapting to a ‘new normal’, there has been little escape from its effects. Clearly, this is having an impact on jobs – significant losses have affected hospitality, tourism and aviation sectors, to name just a few. But what about security?

Peter French, CEO of SSR Personnel – a specialist recruitment company in the security and risk management sector – is in a better position than most to assess. The business was founded in 1986 in the UK, and now has a strong presence around the world, recruiting for roles in corporate risk resilience and for security technology vendors.

The impact of COVID-19 on security

“Of course, industries such as hospitality and sport have been devastated by the pandemic,” begins Peter. “For security, there’s the inevitable knock-on effect on staffing – suddenly with restaurants and bars operating at limited capacity, and sport taking place without spectators, fewer staff are required to manage crowds and secure premises. Attempts are being made to improve the situation, like drive-in cinemas, but I would suggest this hasn’t made up for the loss of festivals, for example. And then you have to consider how all this may work in the winter with indoor events.”

Despite these concerns, from its vantage point as a specialist recruitment firm, SSR Personnel has noticed a rise in requirements for security roles in other areas. As staff begin to come back to the office, new safety systems are being put in place, ranging from occupancy management to temperature screening. And, as Peter explains, the security team is set to be at the forefront of these operations.

“Many security managers have picked this up under their remit, as they view it as a responsibility they can deal with. It’s not just about the entrance to workplaces, either. There needs to be a team in place who can monitor the technology and work with facilities staff to best organise the processes.

“You also have to think about the top level strategies,” continues Peter. “We’ve seen a rise in requirements for corporate risk resilience roles. Quite often, these are done on a contractual basis, with expert consultants who have been involved in the security industry for a long time able to help companies plan and prepare for the future. Business resilience plans have been thrown into the spotlight. Security professionals are invaluable in these types of roles.”

The changing role of the security professional – communication and technology

Alongside this, the retail environment is once again recruiting for security officers as the high street tentatively reopens. Crucially, employers are looking for individuals who can not only carry out the primary role of a security officer, but also who can support the return of confidence to stores.

From my own experiences, this has been a critical function for the staff on duty at supermarkets and other key shops over the lockdown period, and this will continue to be a valued asset as we come out of the pandemic, believes Peter.

“The security officer has a big role to play in bringing confidence to those that decide they want to come out. People aren’t used to queuing to get into stores, so there’s likely to be some frustration at the delay, while there are others who will still be cautious. The front-of-house security officer then has to adapt to both types of scenario. Clear communication will be imperative. And those who are multilingual will be especially sought after – particularly in London and the busier cities.”

“One thing that has changed when speaking to retailers is that petty theft has actually been significantly reduced. Thieves don’t feel safe when they know people are on more alert than usual, and when there may be fewer customers in the store to hide behind.”

One takeaway from this may be that the general public will begin to recognise the importance of a security officer’s work, and highlight skills that they may not have always attributed to the role. It’s an issue the industry is working hard to tackle. The BSIA, Security Institute and Security Commonwealth have recently launched a joint dedicated campaign to reset the public perception of security officers, for instance.

As Peter explains further: “We underestimate that a lot of licenced security officers are multilingual, or that they have skills that go far beyond their face-to-face dealings with the public. I hope it is made clear that this sector has ‘stood up’ across the world as part of the frontline during this pandemic.

Bright Minds

SSR Personnel’s Bright Minds initiative is designed to support the coming generations of corporate enterprise risk professionals. “We source and select graduate level high calibre individuals who meet a carefully agreed personal specification in both skill, output, and cultural fit,” explains Peter.

“There is also now a demand from the millennial generation to change their career direction, labelled as ‘minterns’, undertaking internships in their 30s. As Gen Y find dissatisfaction in their early careers, they are resilient when starting again, bring enhanced skills and will accept lower remuneration to gain a foothold in your company.”

“On the other side, the most accomplished Chief Security Officers and resilience directors have experience across all aspects of a business. While their essential skills revolve around the management of technology and personnel to reduce risk in a business, they bring benefits to other departments. Such as introducing video analytics into a retail store can support the marketing team, for instance. You can then run footfall analysis, assess waiting times, or integrating traveller assistance management with an accounts package to control expenditure whilst keeping employees safe.

“Ultimately, it’s about communication. Whether you’re on the frontline dealing with queuing shoppers, or working in conjunction with the accounting team to come up with a solution that benefits both sides, being a good communicator is key.”

There is also a significant move towards a more technology-focused security environment. For many, this raises concerns over the potential for reduced staffing numbers – if one camera can do the job of three people, what does this mean for jobs in the sector?

Peter highlighted, however, that this was just another reason to showcase the talents of security professionals. “AI is a huge driver for the sector. But just because the camera can run all of these analytics, doesn’t make it useful. It’s not useful until someone uses that data and understands how to analyse it. While this may result in fewer officers on patrol, the job becomes more skilled and suddenly a ‘manual’ process becomes a more technical one. As long as security professionals move with this change, it should hopefully show them in a new light and help tackle issues of low pay.”

Mental health and the need for discussion

Peter was also keen to discuss the importance of raising awareness of mental health in the industry. The subject has gained increased traction over recent years, but there is still much more to be done. Security staff are often the first on the scene in response to emergencies, while many professionals have a background in the armed forces; challenging scenarios that can be difficult to process in the long-term.

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“Employers need to make sure that their employees know they are supporting them when it comes to mental health,” says Peter. “Trying to discuss the issue can be really hard – both for the employee and the employer – but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be recognised. It might not even have come about for obvious reasons – I’ve seen problems come from positive events in someone’s life which have led to a significant change in lifestyle, such as having a baby.

“It’s tough for security professionals, especially those who work on a contract basis. We need to ensure there is the infrastructure in place to support those affected. Businesses who hire security firms need to ensure they don’t just go for the ‘cheapest’ option, but also assess what that company does to support their staff. It’s too often overlooked, but can result in terribly sad consequences.”

You can also read last year’s interview with Peter, discussing SSR Personnel in more depth, here. 

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