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Young Talent in Security

Tony Dong

By Tony Dong

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” - Mark Twain

In their 2010 report titled “The Private Security Industry: A Review of the Definitions, Available Data Sources, and Paths Moving Forward”, Strom et al. noted that age demographic information is of key interest to industry observers and professionals, because it provides insight into the type of individuals who choose to work in private security and provides implications for future growth.

Depending on the skew of the age histogram, predictions of expected growth or stagnation in the industry will vary. For example, if the mode age of the occupation skews right towards the 40s or 50s, then one may infer that a large portion of the occupation will be retiring in the next few years, creating a potential shortfall in the number of security professionals that will be needed in the next 5 or 10 years. If a proportionately small amount of young professionals (those under 25) enter the profession year over year, one can infer that the industry risks stagnating.

The 2019 US Bureau of Labour Statistics report on the labour force statistics from the current population survey shows the following results.

We see that only a very small percentage (10.3%) of those in the industry are in their early 20’s. The majority are between the ages of 35-64. The data speaks loud and clear – the security industry is aging, and the prospect of young professionals choosing it as an occupation is dwindling. Attrition of the security industry via aging appears to be a very real possibility in the foreseeable future.

Who guns for security management career at a young age then? The smart ones get degrees, rocket up the corporate ladder at higher pay rates, and pick up management skills. The sharp ones go to policing to protect their communities with actual law enforcement powers. The resilient ones choose military service and serve dutifully in a time-honoured trade, with pension and benefits. All three receive prestige from society at large, as "respected professions". When was the last time a child ever told their parent they wanted to be "a security manager", as opposed to a soldier, a cop, or a businessman?

The ones who remain in security holding the bag are stuck as guards until the "old boys club" deems them wizened enough to finally merit an management position (usually upon achieving one or more of the ASIS certifications too), irrespective of their actual ability. This usually takes the form of "acquiring 10 years experience" - which in my experience, works out to 10 years of the same years experience slogging along, with no meaningful innovation or development and their salary barely outpacing inflation.

Let's take it back to even earlier in the career pipeline - when was the last time you saw a large security company (Allied, G4S, Securitas, etc) doing on-campus hiring for corporate or management trainee roles the same way tech, consulting, or banking does? When was the last time you saw a graduate from a prestigious university pick a security company as their exit job of choice following completion of their degree? Everyone wants to go to Goldman or Google. Significantly fewer want to go work at GardaWorld or G4S.

The few times I've seen security companies on campus, the jobs offered were entry-level guard positions paying under $20.00/hr. Try selling that to the business student with a rival offer from a Big 4 firm paying 50% more. Even criminal justice students would balk and look to public agencies for analyst or special constable positions. It was a telling sight when I would walk past a security firm's booth at my alma mater's career fair with barely any interested candidates in attendance. The few who inquired walked away dejected after learning what awaited them would be a dead-end contract guarding career barely making living wage and a slim chance at management after half a decade of slow progression. Flanking that booth were RCMP, CSIS, and financial services companies eager to hire bright-eyed, intelligent young graduates for analyst, investigations, and officer roles.

What happened here? How did it become this bad? There are likely a myriad of factors, but I hypothesize that this exodus and scarcity of young talent is caused in part by the perverse incentive risk stemming from the hiring strategies of security companies - the proverbial "use this security job as experience for law enforcement" recruiting pitch. Although enticing and in a way, intuitive, it results in a continual brain drain of the most motivated and apt to public law enforcement, leaving the rejected behind to comprise the bulk of those ascending to senior positions in the industry. Would you want an industry led by those who had no choice but to remain in their position for lack of better options?

Security jobs are marketed as a stepping stone - not a career, and this myopically short sighted model of recruitment aimed at increasing HPW and filling warm body into open shifts has done more to damage the industry than any other strategic blunder. None of this was caused by the public waking up one day and deciding that security was profession of last resort, a second-choice to other careers. This screw-up was 100% self-inflicted by a constellation of practices, beliefs and dogma that served to keep the industry perceived as punching below its true potential.

It reminds me of Nietzsche:

“I call an animal, a species, an individual corrupt, when it loses its instincts, when it prefers what is injurious to it.”

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