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Mike has been in the security industry for well over 36 years. He started with the family business as a locksmith and alarm engineer and fitted more than 1,000 systems before moving on to own and run his own company. He later sold out to a NACOSS company and became a self-employed inspector for the SSAIB. Alongside inspecting, he taught alarm installation and locksmithing for T K Consultants of Bolton. For the last nine years of his official working life, Mike was employed by the NSI, working with the marketing team. His main contribution to the NSI regime was to visit most of the new applicants and help them get up to NSI requirement. Since reaching retirement at 65 he does a little consultancy and has written an installers handbook. As Mike says, "The industry has given me a good living for a lot of years
August 21, 2014


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Security Installers: Is that ‘Bit of Work on the Side’ Worth the Risk?

bribery and corruptionSooner or later engineers are asked to do what’s known in the trade as a ‘guvvy’ job: pocketing a bit of extra cash for a bit of work ‘on the side’ – fitting an illicit system in your spare time.

However, engineers get fired and a stain on their record if they get caught. In fact, if they get a conviction for theft they may never work in our industry again – certainly not with an NSI- or SSAIB-approved company.

Could the guvvy job be put to good use? Unlikely, but let’s look at this from another angle. Fitting outside lights, smoke detectors and small alarms to sheds and garages are usually too small and problematical for even a small company. There simply isn’t enough revenue on offer to make it worthwhile or to cover call-backs if things go wrong.

But they might be a suitable source of work for someone with a young family to support and who needs a bit of extra cash. So why not let him have the work with the boss’s blessing – and the call-backs and problems that go with it. When an engineer has to return to resolve teething troubles at his own time and expense he soon learns to do the job right first time – in fact, he soon becomes the type of ‘good first-time’ engineer the boss wants.


All it takes is a sit-down chat between the boss and employee to establish what the boss will and won’t allow. The engineer must also agree to buy all he needs from the boss and refer larger jobs to him in return for a fee.

It could benefit the boss, who needn’t decline unprofitable small jobs anymore; he refers them instead to the more junior installer. Turn down ‘small’ jobs and the customer goes elsewhere – for the more lucrative jobs.

I once alarmed a garage to protect a new car and then took responsibility for the house alarm. Later, I installed the full security and fire alarm system on his new business premises. These small jobs have a way of escalating; it’s how a company grows, and bosses have a bad habit of forgetting this.

What is the downside of ‘work on the side’? For a start, what about third-party insurance? If you fall off the ladder and injure yourself, or damage the customer’s property, who pays? What about 24/7 emergency cover? You can’t just take time off and go, and you can’t run to the boss for help – not unless he sanctioned the work.

As for the boss, he’ll probably see this as theft; the engineer is probably using consumables out of the van, like cable, clips, plugs and screws. It is theft – of goods of a negligible value, but theft all the same. And it is a sacking offence, and you can forget the tribunal – you haven’t a leg to stand on.

Now look a little deeper. An engineer is asked to do a full install on the cheap. If he was honest and took it to the boss would he get a reward, a little bonus for brining in a new customer? Probably not.

Zero incentive

Here we have the boss’s blind spot. Many bosses would just take the job and not even say thank you. They believe that they have a god-given right to take any work offered to their staff with zero incentive.

Were a system in place for rewarding employees who bring in more custom they would probably find more work coming in. Unfortunately far too many bosses believe in the ‘stick’ and wouldn’t dream of offering the ‘carrot’ because carrots are for rabbits.

There is another angle. Many young installers dream of owning their own company. They see the boss sitting in luxury, driving a big car and having two big holidays a year and think: “that should be me”.

They don’t see the long hours of hard graft the boss put in before he earned the right to put his feet up. Or the stress of wondering where the next job is coming from. Or the money at the end of the month to pay for equipment already bought and fitted.

Life for the small-company owner is decidedly hard when starting out. Most proprietors had to make a decision at some point: pay the bills or put food on the table for the kids! If the boss let the engineer see more of this the engineer might be less likely to say “stuff your job – from now on I work for myself”.

If there were a little more trust and reward, common sense and openness, on both sides, perhaps we could address this perennial problem. It is a fact of life: the more you put in, the more you get out!

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