Market indicators that place the electronic security industry on a robust growth trajectory in a post-pandemic world are manifold. From mass shootings to a rise in terrorist attacks, chronic vandalism and cyber threats, the need to protect people, property and infrastructure has never been greater. Extensive deployment of advanced technologies across numerous verticals is helping end users not just meet their security goals and requirements, but achieve essential business efficiencies as well.
Demand for these products and integrated systems will remain high for the foreseeable future. Far more difficult to ascertain is whether or not the industry’s ecosystem of service providers and suppliers will conquer the one pervasive threat that could derail all that long-term momentum. No, the alpha villain is not supply chain chaos. Even more ominous to the industry realizing its full potential is the scarcity of talent.
A confluence of social dynamics has created a critical juncture for an industry that finds itself struggling to fill skilled labor, including technicians, project managers and engineers, as well as executive roles in its workforce. Installing security contractors and manufacturers alike face overlapping challenges, ranging from baby boomers who are set to leave the industry en masse to the pandemic-fueled “Great Resignation,” among other factors that are draining talent pools for employee recruitment and creating higher turnover.
“It is definitely a significant concern,” says Don Erickson, CEO of the Security Industry Association (SIA). “We’re not seeing the next generation coming in as quickly as possible. Our industry is competing against every other industry for talent. And every other industry is focused on finding emerging leaders and younger talent.”
“Our industry is competing against every other industry for talent. And every other industry is focused on finding emerging leaders and younger talent. ”
— Don Erickson, Security Industry
A dearth of young talent is exacerbated by the industry’s lack of diversity. Despite the emergence of successful initiatives such as SIA’s Women in Security Forum — which endeavors for gender parity in the workplace through professional development — the participation rate among women remains lopsided when compared to white men. The disparity is especially pronounced at installation companies. For example, the “security and fire alarm systems installers” segment tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows female participation at less than 5 percent. Representation is also negligible among Black and Asian employees at 2.3 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively. Hispanic or Latino workers are better represented at 32.1 percent.
Navigating diversity and inclusion programs while recruiting a steady pipeline of upcoming generations will be essential to the overall health of the security industry. The urgency is not lost on forward-thinking companies that recognize their viability to compete in the marketplace is dependent on winning the competition for the best talent. But the work does not stop there. To succeed in the fast-evolving labor market, companies are simultaneously adapting to hybrid and work-from-home (WFH) polices. Implementing remote onboarding and professional development — in addition to maintaining culture — are also challenging organizations.
For a deeper understanding of the forces — and related implications — that are driving all this change in today’s workforce, SDM spoke with more than a dozen organizations from across the industry landscape. Ahead they discuss how their companies are pivoting to secure future success by remaining relevant to customers and employees alike amid multiple adversities and gale force headwinds.
Defining Diversity & Inclusion
It’s important for company leaders to fully grasp the meaning of diverse hiring before they can expect to implement it, explains Leah Knight, director, global talent acquisition at Snap One, a Charlotte, N.C.-based manufacturer and distributor of A/V, control and security equipment.
“Diversity isn’t just the color of your skin or your gender. It is so many different things. We need to be open and understanding of people coming from different industries and coming from different backgrounds.”
— Leah Knight, Snap One
“Diversity isn’t just the color of your skin or your gender. It is so many different things. We need to be open and understanding of people coming from different industries and coming from different backgrounds,” she says. “That is what makes up diversity.”
Knight works closely on talent acquisition with the company’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) council, which Snap One formed about three years ago. To source candidates, all jobs openings at the company are posted to the website Professional Diversity Network. Snap One also looks internally to identify those team members who are considered top performers.
“Tapping into our internal network is something that we’ve definitely been doing,” Knight says. “We are trying to do a better job of promoting our referral program and internal opportunities to get our diverse team members that we already have on staff to be referring other diverse candidates.”
Diversity at senior levels in an organization is especially key to stimulate recruiting and retention efforts, Knight says.
The proprietors of Integrated Security Technologies (IST) — Christine Lanning and Andrew Lanning (white shirt) — place an emphasis on team-building activities to promote culture and staff interaction. // IMAGE COURTESY OF IST
“One of the biggest things is having diversity at senior levels and making sure that people have mentors and somebody to look up to who is similar to them,” she says. “That connection can be aspirational for other employees. Having leadership and having people throughout all different areas of the business be diverse is really important to help with retention.”
Eddie Reynolds, co-founder and CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based Iluminar — the only Black woman-owned manufacturer of security hardware in the world — echoes a similar sentiment. She believes creating a workplace that is viewed as truly open by the rank and file may be the industry’s biggest challenge.
“In the industry, new and potential hires see older white men in all positions of power,” Reynolds says. “Many of them come away feeling intimidated, because they feel like those in leadership don’t look like them. It’s important to practice what we preach and hire and promote people from all backgrounds to influential positions.”
Systems integrator Convergint, Schaumburg, Ill., is on the forefront of incorporating diversity and inclusion principles as a centerpiece of its organization and culture. The company has established various affinity groups for different underrepresented colleagues to encourage professional development opportunities, promote cultural understanding, and recruit and retain talent. These include groups for women, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), Latinx, Black, LGBTQ+, disabled, veterans and Indigenous colleagues.
“Our affinity group members actively participate in college career fairs to recruit diverse talent for the Convergint Development Program,” explains Yaruba Tate, vice president of inclusion and diversity (I&D). “This program is a six-month, entry-level rotational training program for recent engineering, IT or business graduates, and it provides a structured plan to prepare participants for an exciting sales or operations role with Convergint. Specific skills are developed through supervisor and mentor training as well as formal training courses.”
The program focuses on providing industry knowledge and business practices including product training, system design, system installation, products and services provided, estimates and proposals, among other facets. Ensuring that job descriptions speak to diverse applicants while being specific about the skillsets required can be essential to building a more diverse workplace, Tate explains.
“Leading with sensitive, thoughtful and inclusive language demonstrates that you are an inclusive workplace that considers all applicants regardless of gender, background, disability or status,” he says.
Publicly sharing I&D policies, initiatives and ongoing activity can demonstrate an organization’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, he adds. “This practice is essential to attracting diverse talent and promoting company culture.”
Podcast: Convergint’s Leadership Role in Creating a More Diverse Industry
Convergint has made it its mission “to become the most equitable and inclusive global service provider by leveraging diverse talent and creating a culture where all colleagues can achieve their maximum potential.” SDM spoke with Convergint’s Yaruba Tate, vice president, Inclusion & Diversity (I&D), to learn about the integrator’s work to achieve its lofty goals. In a wide-ranging discussion, we explore how I&D helps serve clients, how these initiatives promote retention and recruiting, and much more, including best practices advice for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Striving to Build Diversity Through Awareness
A significant hurdle many companies face to building a more diverse workforce is the general lack of awareness about the electronic security industry. In other industries, such as HVAC or electrical contracting, there is a broader pool of potential employees to hire due to society’s common knowledge of what is involved in performing those trades, explains Dee Ann Harn, president and CEO of RFI, a security integrator based in San Jose, Calif., and featured on this month’s cover.
A concerted effort to forge outreach and awareness campaigns will be key to driving younger, more diverse job candidates into the security industry pipeline, she says.
“We have the potential to find and develop more diverse employees if we start to build relationships with trade and high schools in our local communities. This next generation is more inclined to turn to trade schools to avoid accumulating student debt and to develop skills that translate directly into jobs,” Harn says. “Our opportunity as an industry is to catch these individuals before they go down another trade’s path. If we can successfully engage within our local communities, we have better potential to build a workforce more reflective of the communities in which we serve.”
The challenge comes in having the internal resources dedicated to educating potential candidates about the industry on a larger scale, Harn says. “If we can get in front of 10 potential candidates, we might get one person to interview. But if we can get in front of 100 candidates, we can potentially get 10 to interview. Our chances to bring new people on board grow.”
Christine Lanning, president and co-founder of Integrated Security Technologies (IST), a commercial integrator based in Hawaii, also advocates proactively seeking diverse candidate pools. That means finding potential employees in non-traditional ways, she says.
“This could be attending a veteran’s job fair, attending a local high school class to talk about the security technology industry, or going to a cultural organization meeting like the Japanese Chamber of Commerce,” she says.
The inclusion piece to the puzzle comes from providing equitable access to job opportunities, Lanning adds. “For us this looks like creating space for an individual that worked in the hospitality industry, for example; perhaps in banquets or finance, and training them into an account manager role in the security industry because we see their potential to deliver exceptional customer service.”
Amber Weaver, vice president, talent acquisition, ADT, Boca Raton, Fla., explains the company is also focused on finding new ways to attract and retain high-quality candidates that help it take steps toward creating a diverse, balanced and technically expert workforce. To help draw more candidates into its talent pipeline, ADT has created a variety of outreach programs, such as partnering with Recruit Military, an organization that helps veterans get into the workforce. Other initiatives include an apprenticeship technician program through the ADT Commercial business, as well as building out a full-scale internship program.
“When we think about entry-level talent, we’re investing in our future success and potentially discovering future leaders,” Weaver says. “ADT currently offers several internship opportunities; however, we’re working to be more intentional with who we market opportunities to and the institutions and student associations we choose to work with, including Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs].”
Weaver comments it is imperative that companies not only focus on recruitment and retention, but also on the development of diverse talent. In an effort to continue to develop its team members, she explains ADT has launched several new initiatives, including an Inclusive Diversity and Belonging Council where members are responsible for developing near and long-term enterprise initiatives for the advancement of diversity and inclusion. Another program, Business Employee Resource Groups (BERGs), are led and participated in by employees who share a characteristic — be it gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, lifestyle or interest. The groups bring together colleagues for insights, support, career development and community engagement.
“We’re always looking to enhance both the sourcing and recruitment process to ensure our process remains inclusive,” Weaver says. “One way we do this is through diverse slate hiring for director-plus roles. I think it’s important to not just utilize best practices, but to think outside the box and recruit in a way that also fits our business, mission and vision. This is where our business employee groups come in. Our BERGs are doing some amazing work at ADT and we’re beginning to partner to learn how we can be more effective in our diverse hiring efforts.”
Advancing Gender Parity
There is compelling research in the business world that may motivate organizations to take more urgency in identifying more women to serve in upper management and C-suite roles. Gender diversity and ethnic diversity directly translates to improved performance in comparison to less diverse competitors, according to McKinsey & Co.
Companies where more than 30 percent of executives are women were more likely to outperform those where the proportion is lower, according to McKinsey’s research. The findings for ethnic and cultural diversity were similar, but with an even wider gap in profitability between more diverse and less diverse companies.
Still other research shows diversity can significantly impact an organization’s top-line performance, especially those that rely on creativity and innovation. The Boston Consulting Group surveyed more than 1,700 companies across eight countries to examine the relationship between managerial diversity, the presence of enabling conditions and innovation outcomes. The group studied the correlation of multiple aspects of diversity — gender, age, national origin, career path, industry background and education — both individually and collectively. Companies with above-average total diversity had both 19 percent higher innovation revenues and 9 percent higher earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) margins, on average.
The research also found that enabling diversity — such as fair employment practices, participative leadership, top management support and open communications — is worth up to 12.9 percent in innovation revenue.
The more the industry can mirror a balance of men and women, the more women will be able to see themselves playing a role in the sector, Harn says.
Iluminar CEO Eddie Reynolds (left) was a featured presenter at SIA’s 2022 AcceleRISE event hosted by the SIA RISE community. She joined her sister, Erica Reynolds, CEO of E.L. Reynolds & Associates, for a session titled “Let’s Chat: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.” The sisters discussed how organizations can create a sense of belonging in the workplace and how gender, generation and ethnicity play a role in an individual’s perception of belonging. // IMAGE COURTESY OF SIA
“As technology continues to develop and move more to cloud services, our job as an industry is to piggyback onto the push to get more young girls involved in STEM programs early in their education,” she says. “The skills to be able to program, code and work within the IT industry lend themselves well to the evolution of the security industry. Having groups like the Women in Security Forum to be mentors and role models to young women contemplating the security career is vital.”
A grassroots, word-of-mouth approach is what Lanning suggests the industry sorely needs to help spread the word to other women about the promise the security industry could well hold for them. “We need successful women in our industry to tell their career success stories to other women — at high schools, colleges and at recruiting fairs in their communities,” she says. “They need to ask those other women to give our industry a try.”
IST hired its first female technician from another company in the telecommunications industry. Lanning explains they went out of their way to recruit her and gave a presentation about how IST wanted her and what kind of a career the company could help her build. “Once she was hired, she invited another female technician that she knew to join us, and she’s inspired another woman from our fulfillment department to join the field technical team,” Lanning says.
IST’s engineering manager is also female. She came to the company from a recruiting agency, and although she didn’t have experience in the industry, her U.S. Navy background as an electronics technician provided her a great foundation to succeed.
“We have two successful female account managers; neither had previous experience or familiarity with our industry,” Lanning adds. “The message here is that we must go out into the world and find motivated women and minorities, invite them into our organizations and create pathways for their careers to grow to their maximum potential.”
Candice Aragon, vice president of marketing and education for PSA, a systems integrator cooperative, says she has witnessed the industry make tremendous strides to encourage more women to consider security. She stresses industry professionals must work collectively to promote the work of SIA’s Women in Security Forum, as well as celebrate the achievements of exceptional women in the industry through the Forum’s Power 100 list and similar programs. Sharing these stories via professional networks helps spread the message that the security industry is an excellent place for women to thrive, Aragon explains.
“A large piece of attracting female professionals to security is showing there are people like them who are achieving great things,” she continues. “Likewise, a supportive network of mentors and peers is also important. At PSA this year we have launched a women’s committee for female employees at our various integrator companies to work together to discuss topics important to women in security and help make the security a more inclusive place for all.”
Eva Mach, president and CEO of security integrator Pro-Tec Design, Minnetonka, Minn., also applauds SIA and the Women in Security Forum for highlighting females and their stories. “One of the most powerful recruitment tools is seeing people like yourself being happy and successful in the profession,” Mach says. “I would add that following more ‘blue collar’ success stories would be helpful in attracting women and minorities to the industry.”
In Mach’s view, there needs to be more of a culture change to encourage more women to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in the sector, as well as challenge the false perception that it is an industry best suited for men.
“For example, the union our techs belong to is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers [IBEW]. The union titles were just changed from Foreman to Foreperson last fall,” she points out. “There is a perception — right or wrong — that this is still a man’s world.”
The Company Culture Imperative
Fostering a positive work environment may never have been more necessary than in the current climate, suggests John Hevesy, an executive coach who recently left his role as vice president, organizational effectiveness at Stanley Black & Decker. From bringing on new talent to achieving ongoing employee fulfilment and retention, a strong workplace culture — especially in a candidate-driven market — serves as a catalyst for a company’s success.
Company culture is formed not necessarily by the top executives — they certainly set the tone — but more so by the middle management team, explains Hevesy, who is board chairman of the Foundation for Advancing Security Talent (FAST). The more companies can invest in building a really good field management team, the better chance they have to markedly improve their culture, he says.
“A lot of times those people get missed. The salesperson who is now a sales manager. The technician who is now an ops manager. A company might just assume they have figured it all out because they were good in that previous role,” he continues. “I see companies investing more in making sure they hire the right people for those types of roles, and they give them the tools to succeed. They don’t just leave them to, ‘You figure out how to hit your number.’ But they’re investing in them. They’re making sure they understand, for example, what it means to be self-aware, what it means to be emotionally intelligent, how to handle conflict when it comes up on the team.”
Hevesy continues, “One phrase we used a lot at Stanley Black & Decker is around courageous conversations. The phrase is, ‘The longer you wait to have a courageous conversation, the more courageous you have to be.’ In this mindset, if there’s either underperformance or there’s something that needs to be addressed by someone on your team, address it as a manager. Be empowered to address it because nothing hurts company culture more — and morale of the team more — than underperformance that isn’t addressed.”
To promote retention at IST, Lanning says the company spends a lot of time with its teams on culture-building tools. “That means learning to have honest, transparent appreciation for each other, each other’s opinions, and each other’s individual contributions to our company’s group effort,” she explains. “Communication skills, just like other technical skills, have to be taught, practiced and policed for accountability by everyone in the organization if we want to maintain a respectful, professional environment. Today’s workforce absolutely expects their workplace environment to be supportive, encouraging and respectful.”
Providing a rich culture and benefit package to retain employees at RFI has been a passion of Harn’s since she took ownership of the company in 2011. At the time, RFI had been around for more than three decades. Harn explains that finding ways to identify “the lightning in the bottle” and expand upon it was imperative to continuing to be relevant — not only as a security provider, but as a business in an evolving economy.
“We looked at what other businesses in and out of our industry were doing to tackle this issue and proceeded to implement our own version,” she says. “We also sought feedback from our RFI community through the use of surveys to identify what was important to our people and adjusted and changed accordingly.”
The years-long focus on building culture and contented personnel has served RFI well through the job market tumult brought on by the pandemic. “Investing in our people is key,” she says. “I believe RFI is a great place to work partly due to the expanded benefit structure we have in place, but also our commitment to investing into our people through education and training. We have resources in place to assist our community in developing their professional and personal skills.”
John Becker, global vice president of sales at access control manufacturer AMAG Technology, Torrance, Calif., says company culture has become a focal point of inquiry for job candidates during recruiting. While most prospects are indeed looking for an increase in pay and perks, company culture is weighing heavily in their decision-making, he says.
“Out of the three [sales] positions I have filled this year, that became the big story in all this. Last year, nobody asked me about culture. It was COVID, they just wanted to know how things were running,” he says. “Now they want to know, ‘Will I get to talk to my peers? How often will I see you? Will I just be out here doing my job or will I feel like I am part of a family?’”
Becker says he emphasizes to job candidates that AMAG wants its employees to have fun, but also be challenged. “People want to be in a fun atmosphere, but they’re OK being challenged,” he explains. “And that’s probably the one thing we push more than anything.”
Despite working remotely, Becker says the company creates ways for salespeople to remain connected to colleagues, such as participation in a fantasy football league and similar activities around the NCAA basketball tournament. “We are currently doing one right now with a scavenger hunt,” he adds. “They spend a lot of time communicating with each other, even though they’re all remote employees. So having that connection into the organization is good.”
Research shows that organizations with more diverse workforces perform better financially. Companies where more than 30 percent of executives are women were more likely to outperform those where the proportion is lower, according to McKinsey & Co. Above, young professionals network during the 2022 AcceleRISE event. // IMAGE COURTESY OF SIA
Hybrid Work Policy Is Here to Stay
Aside from executive roles and sales positions, the idea of “remote work” may not have had a place in the lexicon at most security providers prior to COVID-19. Then a near total shutdown of a wide swath of the economy created an impromptu experiment in the efficacy of the remote workplace. Almost overnight, organizations were suddenly thrust into juggling how to stand up the management systems and technical infrastructure necessary to support workers in their homes.
The initial cataclysm has evolved into wholesale change to traditional roles and operating models. Security organizations learned they can leverage talent across geographies and are now expanding the recruiting pool in an industry that struggles mightily with awareness to the outside world. Employees now ardently express quality of life benefits afforded by the hybrid working model. For many companies it has become ingrained into the meaning of the new normal.
Iluminar’s Reynolds sees multiple positives in the hybrid workplace becoming a mainstay of the new normal. Chief among them is cost savings.
“No. 1, a lot of people can be more productive when they have a hybrid work schedule. We conduct meetings with Teams and Zoom and save a lot of money on travel,” she says. “For some people who need to go into an office, they can always have that option. But also in terms of overhead, businesses may not need as big of an office. Having that hybrid work option, I feel, is actually really smart. And I’m not sure why we didn’t think about it a long time ago.”
“Having that hybrid work option, I feel, is actually really smart. And I’m not sure why we didn’t think about it a long time ago.”
— Eddie Reynolds, Iluminar
Harn as well has become a true believer in the potential for a hybrid workplace to strengthen an organization, both fiscally and with employee retention. During the pandemic, the company moved most corporate support positions to remote. As COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, RFI brought its people back into the office three days a week; however, there are caveats to heed, Harn says.
“This arrangement has been positive. As inflation and gas prices have impacted our country, as well as a workforce looking for flexibility, we have shown a commitment to meet our people where they are at,” she says. “There are pros and cons to implementing a hybrid policy and shouldn’t be done without intentionally focusing on the company’s existing culture. As with all things, to remain relevant in business it is important to look as far into the future as possible to see what the next generation will value in terms of their work environment. Being willing to adapt and adjust to ensure the expectations of the future workforce and our company are in alignment is essential to the health of RFI.”
Snap One is another example of a company that has fully embraced the hybrid workplace. The firm’s technical support and dealer partner teams have gone entirely remote with a lot of initial success to date, Knight says.
“It has been amazing for those two departments. The reason it’s been great is those are essentially call centers, where they need some coverage from 8 a.m. Eastern to 8 p.m. on the West Coast,” she explains. “In the past when we were only hiring tech support people in Charlotte or Draper, we were having to find people, especially for the East Coast, that would be OK working 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. That’s not an easy shift to work, especially if you have young kids; day cares aren’t open those hours. So taking those roles remote has been exceptional for those two departments because now we can hire wherever. If we need somebody to work the West Coast shift, let’s start looking at some candidates that are based in California or Oregon, in that region.”
But here’s the big exception for Snap One: The company still maintains an emphasis on when there is an opening at the Charlotte headquarters, the preference is for the person to be onsite at least part time. That goes for all HQ staff members. “We want people to be together, we still want people to have those water cooler conversations,” Knight says. “And if you are in the Charlotte area, the ask and the requirement is you come into the office at least two days a week.”
COPS Monitoring President Jim McMullen says he is seeing a strong willingness for companies to allow employees to work from home. Post COVID-19, he explains COPS now has more non-dispatch and support employees working from home, and he views the trend will continue. Yet, for monitoring personnel the same does not necessarily apply.
“We have the ability for dispatchers to work from home if it became necessary,” he says. “However, at-home distractions, internet quality and stability, privacy concerns, cyber threats and other variables can complicate management, quality control and significantly impact our ability to deliver acceptable service levels.”
Based in Williamstown, N.J., the company operates redundant monitoring stations in six states. “We feel that COPS has a unique advantage because our workforce is distributed across multiple locations and limits our risk by limiting our reliance on any one site,” McMullen adds. “In fact, we believe we could lose the ability to monitor from up to three sites without a material impact on service levels. Multiple sites also help us recruit the best and more diverse talent because we’re not reliant on just one or two employment marketplaces.”
Joseph Ndesandjo, CEO of San Antonio-based SiteOwl, also says the hybrid trend has greatly expanded the company’s geographical reach for hiring and retaining employees.
“The pandemic has drastically changed our hiring. In the past, we wanted our employees to be co-located, but that’s no longer the case. In fact, this has enabled us to hire the right employee, no matter where they’re located,” he says.
SiteOwl, provider of a cloud-based platform for security system design and management, has been deliberate about enabling teams to collaborate remotely. Whether by Zoom or using centralized collaboration tools, Ndesandjo says the company has really taken advantage of the cloud, but in-person collaboration remains a priority.
“We are a distributed team — many of our employees work from home — but we make it a point to bring the team together every few weeks. Face-to-face interaction and team bonding are key to facilitating creativity.”
Pro-Tech’s Mach also believes the hybrid trend will continue. For example: “Employees are not ready to give up hours of their day to resume commuting.” Yet she also invokes anecdotal conversation she’s heard from some owners and senior executives who express concern about negative impacts on culture and productivity.
Ultimately, Mach believes most companies will come up with a way to accommodate a more flexible approach. Tradition gives way to change.
“This may be more hybrid than work-from-home in the case of office workers, more predictable schedules for those who have to be on-site, and possibly a four-day work week with 10-hour days — or something we have not even thought of yet,” she says. “Measuring and transparency of outcomes will play a significant role. As someone said to me not too long ago: ‘Eva, you need to decide whether you are a butts-in-seats or a delivering-results company.’”