Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

Author Bio ▼

James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
May 2, 2023

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The Video Surveillance Report 2022

IFSEC Interviews

The digital skills gap and inclusive hiring practices – In conversation with SSR Personnel’s Peter French

We catch up with Peter French, CEO of specialist security recruitment firm, SSR Personnel. Peter provides a view on the impact of COVID, how the UK can learn from Asian initiatives to tackle the digital skills gap, and why embedding inclusivity into your hiring practices can help companies get the best talent available in the security sector.


Peter French, CEO of SSR Personnel

Hi Peter, last time we spoke it was in the middle of the COVID pandemic. What’s changed since then for the security sector?

Peter French (PF): I think the most interesting change was the re-evaluation of security from a c-suite board perspective  When we carry out our annual remuneration survey, we ask whether pay has increased and when it was last reviewed.

At a corporate security level, what we’ve seen is that the majority of professionals had their job revalued because they were suddenly in high demand. Security is key to organisational resilience, and in general it outperformed the expectations of management during the COVID period.

As a result, security professionals now have  greater responsibility and more importance has been placed on their roles.

And SSR Personnel has now been in business over 35 years – congratulations! What’s the secret and how does this relate to changes in the industry?

PF: The secret to any business, in any industry, is to keep reinventing the brand as you go and to maintain and develop strong relationships. You might reinvent the brand with people, or with different processes or focuses, but like security has evolved with new technology, we’ve had to evolve with it to match what our clients need.

The industry is in need of new skill sets and we’ve always looked to stay on top of that. When we started, technical engineers required very different skills to now, as everything has moved into the wireless sphere and connecting to cloud servers.

We’ve already touched upon the risk and resilience outlook constantly changing. Security leads are having to consider new threats and challenges such as cyber, the insider threat and the overall resilience of an organisation. Not to mention ESG (Environment, Social & Governance), which every department now must factor in.

And we understand you’re growing in the Asia and Australasia regions?

PF: We first opened an office in Dubai in 2015, but we’re seeing growing demand in regions such as India and Australia now. The Indian market has evolved significantly with its economy growth, while we’ll soon be opening a new office in Sydney where there are some excellent opportunities for security analysts and those with similar skillsets.

Why do you think the Indian and Middle East markets are attracting growing demand for security professionals?

PF: Two factors in India have opened up new opportunities for security professionals. The first is fairly straightforward, in that as the economy has grown, so has demand for security professionals to protect people and places. Where there is money, there needs to be resilience.

Secondly, the country realised that it needed to fix its own infrastructure to better cater for the demands of a new middle class that has developed as the economy has grown. Traditionally, a lot of the highly skilled engineers and technicians – of which there are many – have found jobs outside of the country, but now there are opportunities to stay as the market has opened up.

There’s something like 12,000 highly qualified Microsoft engineers graduate every year that we can deploy outside of India and walk into many roles.

And what about closer to home in the UK? How do you think the sector can tackle the current digital skills gap?

PF: It’s a perfect storm really which has led to the current skills gap. We’ve lost a generation of apprentices, partly because of the 2008 financial situation which led to the larger businesses having to reduce their workforce – inevitably it was apprentices that lost out as skilled and experienced technicians were prioritised.

There’s also been a significant shift in the technology being used and the skills required to install it. While much of the initial installation is more ‘plug and play’ these days, there’s demand from end-users to have it all integrated and linked on a network.

This doesn’t completely negate the need for the traditional electrical skills though – you still need the equipment safely installed and connected in the first place. The market has expanded so quickly that we’re losing those traditional skills and simultaneously haven’t kept pace with what’s being called the ‘digital revolution’ in areas such as the Gulf.


Credit: photostory/AlamyStock

Meet the SSR Personnel team at IFSEC 2023!

SSR Personnel is a recruitment partner for IFSEC 2023. The team will be available to speak to for advice on hiring and opportunities in the sector, or to simply catch up with and find out more about the services they offer on stand IF3447. A charging hub will also be located on the stand for those in need of juice for their phones and laptops.

And, the team will be launching its Project Antarctic initiative, so pop along to find out what it’s all about and how you can get involved!

Secure your free ticket here >>

With a presence in the Middle East, where smart cities such as Neom are very much on the agenda, what have you seen the region doing to prepare its engineering sector for the ‘digital revolution’?

PF: Well firstly the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region has significantly expanded its available workforce by diversifying. Around 50% of those who graduate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects are now females – previously an underutilised part of the population. The figures are the same in computer sciences, too.

This is a very different picture to that in some of the European countries, where women are less than a third of the management workforce, let alone the STEM sectors.

Coding-DigitalSkills-23On top of this, there has been a huge push to promote digital skills. In 2017, the Dubai Government launched a programme called One Million Arab Coders (OMAC), which it developed to find Arabic speakers who wanted to code. By 2022, over 1.2 million Arab speaking coders had enrolled in the programme and many of those who first signed up are now entering the workforce.

I believe it’s going to take something on this sort of scale to get the UK and other areas of Europe ready for the digital revolution – which is here already by the way.

Just look at the advances in AI this year alone – we need people in the security sector, who are going to be able to understand and embrace such technology. We can’t ignore it. It’s not without its dangers, but we just need to careful on the application of it and that’s where we need a workforce with digital skills in place to best utilise it.

On the diversity note, how do you think employers can be more inclusive in their hiring practices?

PF: We’ve got a fantastic opportunity to encourage more diversity into the sector. Working practices have changed and are allowing for more remote positions, where there is more flexibility for women who may previously have had to step out of the office environment when starting a family. Traditionally women are most impacted and therefore being open to flexible working practices is really important from an employer point of view in 2023.

But when we talk about diversity, we shouldn’t just focus on gender diversity. Neurodiversity is really important to consider and it’s not talked about enough.

Traditional hiring practices, for instance, can be a real barrier to finding the best talent. A written application form wouldn’t bring the best out of someone who may be dyslexic, whereas a verbal reasoning test would probably result in a very different outcome. Likewise, a formal one-on-one interview can be very daunting for some people and they may not perform because of this, even if they were extremely qualified and would be a real asset to the team.

I’m a great believer in finding someone with the right qualifications and then putting them into an environment where they’re most comfortable. Maybe make the interview less formal, or meet them for a coffee in a neutral environment, for instance? It’s our job as a recruiter to advise and support in doing this, but the whole industry has to start thinking about this.

And why’s this important?

Security is all about solving problems, right? And there’s nothing better than diverse thinkers when you’ve got a problem. They’ll often look ‘outside of the box’ and come up with new, innovative ideas.

If you don’t build in diverse hiring practices at the start, you might miss out on some incredible talent. And with the skills gap we’ve already talked about, now is not the time to be doing that!

Catch up with Peter French and the SSR Personnel team on stand IF3447 between 16-18 May at London’s ExCeL by registering for your free ticket here >>


Register today for IFSEC 2023

16-18 May 2023, ExCeL London | IFSEC 2023: Recognising the past, embracing the future

Join thousands of likeminded security and risk professionals at IFSEC 2023 in May, as the UK's largest and longest running security event looks ahead to what's next in the sector as it celebrates its 50th birthday. This year will see the launch of the IFSEC distributor network, while London's new Elizabeth Line makes travel to the venue easier than ever!

You’ll find hundreds of leading exhibitors from the physical and integrated security sector, showcasing all the latest in video surveillance, access control, intruder detection, perimeter protection and software solutions. Join the community and secure your ticket today!


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