Every time we at SDM have an opportunity to ask our readers what their greatest business challenges are, the topic of “finding and retaining employees” always emerges as one of — if not the most important — issue that dealers face. It’s particularly true of technical employees, who always seem to be in short supply.

This issue’s SDM 100 Report, a ranking of the largest U.S. security companies by their recurring monthly revenue (see page 61), is not exempt from this predicament. The top 100 companies employ at least 60,000 people full time, of which 26 percent, on average, are in installation and service positions.

“It’s a real issue that’s facing the industry right now and I think that’s something we’re going to have to figure out how to overcome because it’s not a skill gap as much as it is a talent pool gap,” said Tony Byerly, president of Securitas Electronic Security, Uniontown, Ohio. Securitas ES, which purchased Diebold Security’s electronic security division in early 2016, employs about 1,200 full-time people. “If you listen to anybody who’s been talking about needing skilled laborers, those are challenging to find today,” he said. “Those employment pools are drying up, so it’s making people get a lot more aggressive about the talent that is in the space. It’s not that we have a bunch of excess technicians [that] don’t have an IT aptitude; we just don’t have enough technicians around.”

With the speed of technology forcing dealers to reexamine the skill sets they hold in-house — especially in networks, apps, cloud, cybersecurity and more — one might assume that this is strictly a security industry problem. But, in fact, it’s pervasive across the U.S. as more and more industries create permanent, full-time technical positions.

In an April 3 post on U.S. News & World Report titled “Tech Earnings, Jobs Blow Away Rest of the Labor Market,” the author refers to an industry profile published by trade association CompTIA (http://bit.ly/2p8GzJn). “America’s tech payrolls ballooned nearly three times faster than the country’s overall pool of employees in 2016 and carried more than 626,000 vacancies at the end of the year….

“The industry profile ... estimates that 6.9 million Americans worked in tech company-type positions last year, while another 7.3 million worked for ‘organizations ranging from hospitals and banks to retail stores and utilities’ that generally wouldn’t be classified as a tech employer, according to the article.

“Organizations of all sizes are embracing cloud-based technology solutions, expanding their mobile presence, fortifying cyber defenses and driving decision-making through advanced data analysis,” the article quoted Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence at CompTIA, as saying.

Felix Gonzales, senior vice president, strategy and business development at Securitas Electronic Security, likens the situation to Best Buy’s Geek Squad and BMW’s Genius, a tech person who helps car buyers understand and operate their new car better. “If you’re a person who can work at the Geek Squad, you can work at the Genius Desk,” Gonzales said.

Jeremy Brecher, senior vice president technology and chief information officer at Securitas Electronic Security, says part of the problem is not having a clean division of labor. “The industry’s problem is the technology changing and not adapting well to division of labor. [For example] if you send a technician to a site they may have to talk to the IT department to find out why a camera won’t work on a network. But the problem they have to fix next is a lock that’s mechanically broken.”

In the IT world, tasks that require different skill sets are performed by different people at different pay grades. “I think it’s a maturity thing, meaning that we haven’t carved out the division clear enough of where the labor should be split, as other technology industries have done,” Brecher explained.

“As security becomes less proprietary that means the technology skills are applicable outside our space, and so techs leave, engineers leave, not just for other opportunities in our space but for technology in general,” he said.

Some steps you can take to manage this trend: Work with your association on ways to make the security industry more attractive to technicians, and work internally to improve your attractiveness as an employer.