Winning the Security Talent War
When it comes to addressing the talent crisis in the security industry, the faces of the future will need to be much more diverse than those of the past.
It would be hard to find a topic more pressing across the entire security industry than the current workforce shortage. From manufacturers to security integrators, the issue of finding and keeping great employees is among the top concerns of nearly everyone. This has been an ongoing issue for some time; but with a roaring economy, historically low unemployment and rapid technology shifts, the issue is quickly reaching critical mass.
The security industry is hardly alone. Nearly every industry is facing a shortage of workers — particularly technical talent. But there are a number of reasons the security field may be feeling it more acutely.“Like many other industries, technical and field-related associates are hard to find because they’re in very high demand across the board,” says Stephanie Higgins, senior director of human resources for Securitas Electronic Security Inc., Uniontown, Ohio (SDM’s 2019 Integrator of the Year). “The influx of integrated technology in recent years has increased demand for this type of talent.”
“I interact with a lot of different industry associations ranging from banking to industrial to pharmaceutical,” says Don Erickson, CEO, Security Industry Association (SIA), Silver Spring, Md. “Quite honestly it is among the top three concerns expressed by all those organizations. … Security is now competing with other industries, not just for IT talent, but for HR, customer service, and basic sales positions.”
Another problem for the security industry is it is aging, with not enough young and diverse people to replace those that are fast approaching retirement.
“In many ways, the security industry has lagged behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption,” says Lei Bennett, vice president of product management for security, FLIR Systems Inc., Wilsonville, Ore. “The industry is disproportionately old, with 70 percent of the workforce being at least 40 years old versus less than 7 percent younger (according to a Frost & Sullivan 2015 survey). With an aging workforce that is resistant to technological change, there has been less incubation of young talent to keep up with the increasing demand,” she explains.
“There is a workforce of technicians who are reaching retirement who have been the keepers of the knowledge in many ways,” agrees Chris Larker, co-owner with Nancy Larker of integration company S3, Akron, Ohio. “This mentality … really restricts knowledge-sharing and creates silos of information. There hasn’t been a concerted effort by companies to create training programs to build a bench. In the past it was just easier to poach an employee from a competitor.”
Then there is the economy. “Everyone is doing so well,” says Jody Ross, vice president, sales, AMAG Technology, Torrance, Calif. “More companies are expanding and adding positions, which leaves fewer people to fill those roles,” she says.
“The good news is the majority of the reason we are trying so desperately to find new talent is the security industry is growing so rapidly,” adds Ric McCullough, president, PSA Security Network, Westminster, Colo. “Security integrators are very busy with work and they are looking to expand their workforce. Just at PSA alone our workforce grew 15 percent. If we are representative of the industry we represent, it is not a surprise to see people have a need to find new talent. Then, if the workforce for security-related professions isn’t growing enough, we are all trying to share what exists.”
Elaine Palome, director of human resources for the Americas, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass., calls the confluence of these factors the “perfect storm” of events. “Unemployment is at its lowest since 1969. That is issue one. Issue two is the graying of the workforce. Baby boomers make up almost 50 percent of the current workforce and 10,000 are retiring every single day. And younger workers entering the workforce has flattened. College enrollment has decreased for the eighth consecutive year; they are not graduating college, so they are not available to fill these roles.”
Security companies large and small have been scrambling for new ways to find talent, from looking outside of the industry at related fields to unconventional hires such as military spouses and baby boomers looking for second careers. But increasingly, an obvious answer to the talent shortage is to work harder at literally doubling the size of the pool by hiring more women. Beyond that, minorities are another place where the security industry historically has been woefully underrepresented. But efforts are beginning to change there, as well.
“Senior technical staff doing security … will retire soon and it is getting harder and harder to replace them,” says Angie Wong, president, Ojo Technology Inc., Freemont, Calif. “That means we really need the younger people — and not just younger males, but younger females to give us the bigger pool our industry needs to continue to grow.”
This is exactly the approach that drew Convergint’s Bhuvana Badrinathan (featured on this month’s cover along with her colleague, Vice President of Human Resources Laura Mueller) to the security industry when she was hired eight months ago to be CIO of the Schaumburg, Ill.-based integration company. “The fact that Convergint is looking at minorities and females and going to that type of human capital management is something all industries [should be] doing; and if they are not, they will soon be out of business,” she says.
Valerie Anderson, president and managing director for the Americas, Boon Edam, Lillington, N.C., agrees. “I think we must be willing to change the status quo and think outside the box. What has worked in the past is not necessarily right for the future.”
Not Your Father’s Security Industry
The security industry’s past may be working against it when it comes to attracting new types of workers. While from the inside it looks more exciting than ever before, there is a widening gap between the education system and the specific needs of the security industry — assuming you can even get potential employees to think of the security industry as a promising career choice in the first place.
“The security industry, like many others, is seeing an injection of more and more innovative technology with more focus on artificial intelligence and less on manned physical security,” Bennett says. “With this shift comes a higher demand for employees with deep technical backgrounds or field experience to develop, operate and maintain these intelligent systems.”
And there is stiff competition for these types of employees. “The security industry traditionally hasn’t been a place where ‘technical’ employees tend to gravitate,” says Kim Loy, chief product officer, ACRE, Las Vegas. “Instead, they’re seeking roles with the Googles and Apples of the world. Adding to that, these larger IT companies tend to compensate at higher levels, which can also make it difficult to keep talent within the security industry.”
Moreover, there is no built-in pipeline that leads to the security industry from the higher education system or even from trade schools.
“There are gaps emerging in the level of education people are receiving, either from companies, or — if fresh out of school —the business training they are receiving,” Erickson says. “Security companies are having trouble finding those with the technical skills they need, particularly IT and cyber security.”
Some point to an “image problem” in the security industry. Ross says many outside the industry still think of security guards. “People think of the security industry with a preset opinion of what that is and not necessarily all it actually entails. … We haven’t done the best job as an industry of making the technology side more visible to young college students and piquing their interest,” she says.
Erickson adds, “I put this squarely on myself running an industry association; we don’t do a great job of telling the security story to individuals in college now pursuing IT-oriented fields or even individuals with more liberal arts degrees. I don’t think security is at the top of their list as a viable source of employment. There is a lack of awareness about the opportunities and what the industry really does.”
As Christine Lanning, president, Integrated Security Technologies Inc., Honolulu, puts it, “No one grows up and says, ‘I want to be in the security industry.’”
McCullough adds that the industry historically didn’t help itself with the labels it has chosen. “Think about how we marketed our industry up until now: physical security. Low-voltage equipment. These are not terms that engender a great deal of excitement. I love this industry, but looking back, we could have used better terminology.”
Eva Mach, president, CEO and employee owner, Pro-Tec Design Inc., Minnetonka, Minn., also blames the general emphasis on higher education and devaluing of “blue collar” trades. Many security integrators find that while the IT or software-oriented student might find that aspect of security attractive, they do not want to pull wires, potentially putting them off seeking employment in the industry.
“Our emphasis on college education over the past many years has not done us any favors,” she says. “We are trying to reverse that conversation but it has contributed to the terminal shortage of talent in our industry along with other trades. When you consider the percentage of physical security positions compared to other trades, we are a small niche in a situation where there are already shortages. We battle that every day.”
Women & Minorities in Security
Another issue that doesn’t help the security industry’s workforce shortage is its lack of diversity. One only has to walk the show floor at an ISC or GSX show to see the industry is still predominately made up of middle-aged or older white men. But thanks to both industry-wide efforts and individual company initiatives this has begun to change — not a moment too soon, according to many.
“It is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ women and minorities as part of our talent acquisition plan,” Palome says. “Companies successful in winning the war for talent have to include women and minorities. It is imperative to look outside of that 40-year-old white male box.”
As Bennett puts it succinctly, “In an industry dominated by men, the workforce shortage could certainly be alleviated if more women were enticed to work in the security industry.”
Nancy Larker says her company recently became a majority women company, a milestone she is proud to report. “We have 53 percent of our employees that are women. Our management team in the office is 80 percent women. It is exciting for us that in what can be considered a male-dominated field we are a somewhat female-dominated company.”
Larker says she is seeing more resumes coming from women than in the past — something she and Chris attribute to a natural phenomenon more than specific company efforts. “Because we have more women here, they are recruiting more women,” Chris Larker adds.
Other companies are more intentional in specifically seeking out female and minority candidates.
“We are working on a better mix of people,” says Laura Mueller of Convergint. “We have made huge strides in the last year alone. We are 18 percent higher in female employees than the year before. In leadership, we increased our women by 56 percent. In the last 12 months we have hired three senior executives who are women (of which Mueller and Badrinathan are two). These types of changes can take some time.”
Palome agrees. “We started a gender diversity program here two and a half years ago and two years running we increased our female workforce by one percent per year. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is. It takes a long time to make a difference and I’m pleased we are going in the right direction.
“All research tells you that diversity leads to more creativity, innovation, bringing different perspectives to the table, and it also mimics our customer base. We want our workforce to look like our customers. … We are committed to having at least one diverse candidate considered for each management position,” she describes.
Mueller says Convergint is putting policies in place that support diversity and inclusion, such as maternity leave policies and other benefits that are attractive to a wide variety of candidates. The company also recently encouraged an employee-sponsored initiative designed for the women in the company. Women Connect was formed when a group of female employees approached company CEO Ken Lochiatto, who responded, “Absolutely. What can we do to help?” Mueller says. The group provides training and education seminars throughout the year, along with an annual meeting open to all employees regardless of gender.
These types of efforts are not tokenism, Badrinathan stresses. “It’s not like we are saying we are only going to hire women or minorities. We are hiring the best people for the job and hiring to fit our culture. If something we are doing attracts minorities and females more, it is because we are making an effort to make sure it isn’t just men or certain types of people that hear our message. That is amazing and wonderful to see.”
Jennifer Snellgrove, chief people officer, CPI Security, Charlotte, N.C. (SDM’s 2019 Dealer of the Year) says her company has a similar approach. “We try to reach out to everyone because we just want the best candidate. We want to make sure we have quite a bit of diversity because if we all look, sound and think alike, then we won’t have new ideas. Whether that is a different gender, minority or age, we need that to keep growing the way we are. We are not specifically targeting one particular group but we do monitor to make sure we have that diversity.”
Maureen Carlo, director of strategic alliances, North America, BCD International, Buffalo Grove, Ill., sees diversity as a competitive advantage. “When you have a more diverse workforce you can better serve the needs of diverse customers,” she says.
Carlo chairs one of the industry-wide efforts that have emerged in the past couple years specifically to support women in the security industry. The Women in Security Forum (WISF) was started two years ago by SIA to help drive the conversation about drawing more women to the industry — as well as supporting those already here. ASIS has a Women in Security Council, and there are others for women in biometrics and women in cyber security.
“Our vision statement includes the tagline ‘Empowering Women, Influencing Change,’” Carlo describes. “Our goal is we want to have more women involved and seated at the table. We don’t want all women panels, just more at the table. We want more voices and talent to be shared, and expertise that has been untapped.”
Through events such as the Women in Security Breakfast (which will be held for the second consecutive year, this year on Friday morning, March 20, at ISC West), WISF is bringing women and men together to network and discuss issues related to women in the industry. “The breakfast in 2019 was an amazing moment for me personally and for our industry,” Carlo says. “It was our first event like that and it was standing-room only.”
While these types of efforts are widely applauded by both women and men in the industry, they also acknowledge it is just a start. There is more to be done both for women in security and particularly for minorities.
“We chose women [to focus on first] because it was the most visible and easiest place to start,” Palome says. “We have a ton of work to do to make sure our workforce looks like our customers. I would like to see the women’s efforts continue, but hope we will see more minority efforts, as well.”
Erickson agrees. “What we haven’t done enough is fostering further diversity. That means different things, including women, military backgrounds, disabled workers, minorities, etc. The Women in Security Forum has been great but I would like to do something similar in the African American community, which is certainly under-represented.” He cites outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as one effort SIA is actively working on.
Eddie Reynolds, president and CEO of Iluminar Inc., Irvine, Calif. — who was the first recipient in 2018 of the SIA Progressive Award for her efforts in promoting both women and minorities in the security industry — is encouraged by these and other industry efforts, but says there is a long road ahead. “SIA has been really good at getting me a lot of recognition. Being a black female in the industry and the only black female manufacturer of hardware, the past two or three years has been a whirlwind of finally getting noticed in the industry,” she notes.
Reynolds and others point to an intimidation factor for any potential employee who doesn’t feel comfortable being the first. “People like to go where they see people that look like themselves,” Reynolds purports. “They don’t want to be the only one, or think they won’t be taken seriously. They feel defeated before they walk in the door.”
Lanning thinks it takes courage to be among the first in anything — whether it is the first female or minority employee or first on the board of directors. “Being willing to be in an industry where you don’t see people that look like you takes a lot. But I also think men need to be part of the equation. Diversity is important, but the bigger word is inclusion.
“White males are often called privileged, but if you are a white technician I don’t know how privileged you feel. Let’s talk about inclusivity,” she suggests.
Mach adds, “I read an article a long time ago that said diversity is a fact. Inclusion is a choice. That is what I talk about. We have acknowledged diversity in the security industry but we are still working on inclusion. … As an industry we are doing better. Sometimes I think talk is cheap but it starts there. As you start talking about it all of a sudden it doesn’t seem so strange.”
Reynolds suggests a simple way to help diverse candidates feel more comfortable. “Any time someone promotes a tradeshow or sends out an email and you look at the pictures often it is all Caucasian male faces. So my suggestion is we need to get some pictures of some minorities, or women.” She adds that while events like the Women in Security Breakfast at ISC West are great, instead of promoting them as “women’s events,” they should be just part of the pictures of the overall event to send the message that “there are women in everyday security life,” she says.
Ross echoes that sentiment. “Show the successes and how you can advance and it doesn’t matter what color or gender you are. Show pictures of the person speaking so people can see it is a female or person of color. That would be very beneficial.”
Palome is working on another way to promote diversity at her own company. “I would like to see a statement at the bottom of every job posting saying, ‘We value diversity at Axis and welcome everybody,’ and have a diversity statement on our web page.”
Expanding the Talent Pool
Ultimately the issue of the talent crisis can only be solved by a collection of efforts, from drawing more and different people to the industry, to adjusting the thinking of what a “good” candidate looks like. Some point to long-term efforts that may take years to pay off, but will ultimately be worth it. For many, this starts with looking outside of the security industry and boosting internal training efforts to create their workforce from the ground up.
“Historically we focused on talent that could help us today — proficient talent in the moment — which is a challenge,” says Minga Torres, global human resources director, Northland Controls Systems, Milpitas, Calif. “Now we are starting to spend time cultivating new talent … and spending the resources on training and education that will ultimately pay off.”
There is no degree in physical security, so increasingly companies are creating their own programs, often even calling them universities. “We are working on a program internally, Northland University,” Torres says. “It is in the design phase right now, but if we can’t find them externally we looked at what we can do to create that within.”
Securitas’ SES University includes a certification program consisting of two levels, certified and master certified. “SES has developed several associate programs to train and increase our technical teams’ skills and competencies,” Higgins says. “We’ve also enhanced our university training facility and training opportunities at our headquarters.”
Mueller says Convergint is working on a “Grow your Own” program. “This is where we are going out and recruiting from non-traditional security jobs and teaching them the skillsets they need.” Skills such as an electrical or software background and retiring military service people are great resources, she adds.
The company is also looking at new ways of finding these types of people. “Just last week we hosted a happy hour in the Los Angeles area where we asked our colleagues there to reach out to their friend network and bring people who aren’t necessarily in the security industry,” Mueller says. Over cocktails, the 50 people who attended were told about the company and the opportunities available. “From there we are now setting up interviews,” she says.
The company also works with local universities, even forming relationships at the professor level and works closely with former military personnel looking for civilian jobs. “We have the advantage of having just over 90 locations throughout the U.S., so if someone coming out of the military wants to work in their home state, we likely have locations nearby,” Mueller explains.
Chris Larker says his company also has made a conscious effort to look outside the security industry and as a result feels less hard hit by the talent shortage. “We build out techs from scratch. We went outside the industry to find people with different skillsets so our techs don’t have a gap in training because they have been trained up from us. We are able to qualify and mold them the way we need them to be.”
The potential pool is everyone for S3, Nancy Larker adds. “They can be scrubbing toilets, doing landscaping or a sophomore in high school.”
In fact, the company recently worked with the Akron, Ohio, public schools and the YMCA to offer a summer “job shadowing” program for high school students. “We did a full Axis project,” Chris Larker says. “They gave us a bunch of different cameras and we took a mock school and built out a full security plan with cameras. We spent the day configuring the cameras and putting them on the network. The idea was to get them excited about what we do.”
Internship programs are another popular way to draw new employees. “We hire between 15 and 20 interns every summer,” Palome says. “We get them when they are sophomores or juniors in college. Many come work for us after they graduate. It takes time and effort to manage interns but it pays off.”
Carlo says internships are a great way to introduce young people to an industry they may not have thought of before. “We are hiring people after they intern with us. They are learning the company culture and they are figuring out this is a pretty sexy industry. Yes there are a lot of middle-aged men in dark suits, but it is also exciting once you are immersed in it.”
Vistacom Inc., Allentown, Pa., has established an apprenticeship program, says COO Angela Nolan. “We bring in untrained potential candidates with certain base qualifications and skills we can train, mentor and grow internally. If we invest six to nine months of unproductive time for those people, the long-term results are extremely good. We end up with a loyal employee we took a chance on, gave them a career path and we have a better trained employee tailored to a job function in our industry.”
Nolan adds that because there is no clear career path for security it is up to individual company grass-roots efforts. For example, her company works closely with a local inner-city school district to bring kids to the company on field trips and explain the post-high-school path they could take. “It’s kind of a win-win to expose them to careers they would probably have no idea exist otherwise.”
Another important suggestion is to take a hard look at your job requirements and whittle them down or simplify them to draw applicants who might not ordinarily apply.
“We require college degrees for most jobs, which is crazy,” Palome says. “You don’t need a degree to be a receptionist. We need to look at job specs and dial them back a bit. Managers also tend to look for purple squirrels — people who don’t exist. We have made an effort to shorten our postings and only put the absolute necessary requirements.”
Palome points to studies that have shown a woman may not apply for a position unless she feels she is 90 percent qualified, whereas a man will apply when he feels 60 percent qualified.
Job descriptions can inadvertently discriminate against or discourage female and minority applicants, Mueller says. “If it was written requiring industry experience and there are not a lot of women and minorities in the industry, then you won’t attract them because they won’t have that experience. Do they really need to have these skills to be successful? Or do they just have to have the ability to learn some of these skillsets?”
Keeping Good Employees
Attracting new people to the industry is a lofty goal and one everyone is seeking. But the other side of that equation is keeping those employees once you have invested all that time and effort into training them. One of the best ways to do that is by making sure they are a great “culture fit” in the first place.
This is a huge focus for Convergint, Mueller says. “I have been in HR for 30 years and have never seen an organization that lives and breathes their values like this company does,” she says. “The interview process here is very long. They have a lot of people meet with candidates multiple times because the culture fit is so important to them, not only for the company, but to make sure the candidate can be successful in the culture.”
When it comes to keeping employees happy, salary is often the first thing people think of. But in an atmosphere where small security companies compete with big and everyone is up against Google and Apple, pay can’t be the only attraction because someone can always lure them out from under you.
Benefits and perks can be just as key to employee longevity. The term work-life balance is more important than ever before, particularly in attracting and keeping female and younger employees, Boon Edam’s Anderson says. “As we enter 2020, for the first time in a decade women hold 50.04 percent of the jobs in America according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To ensure this trend continues it’s imperative that companies continue to look at services such as on-site daycare and flexible work schedules to support the proper work-life balance for working parents (both male and female).”
In the 21st century, this is not just a female perk, adds Candice Aragon, director of marketing for PSA. A Millennial herself and new to the industry, she suggests that younger employees are more driven by being happy than monetary reward. “I think it is really about the value we are seeing and the more emotional intelligence piece that does come from that millennial outlook and what they want in life. They aren’t as motivated by money; they are more driven by being happy and feeling valued.”
Ross stresses the importance of mentoring new employees and helping them map out their path in the industry. “You can recruit people, but then you need to take the time and mentor them and give them the platform they need to succeed on. You can’t just throw them to the wolves. If you are a young person walking in today you see a lot of older people. But if you know you have a buddy system and that person will help guide you, then you will have a great experience.” Ideally that happy employee will then go tell others and spread the word that this is a great place to work, she says.
Palome cites a Gallup Q12 Survey, which measures employee engagement. “It looked at the top dozen reasons why people stay at an organization and none of them had anything to do with money,” she says. “It was all to do with issues such as, ‘I believe my company has something that benefits the world,’ or ‘My boss is interested in my development,’ or ‘Someone at work has my back.’ We actually measure that here at Axis. We ask employees to comment about how their managers are doing on all 12.”
Feeling valued is key to any employee’s satisfaction, Badrinathan says. “I have worked in IT for a long time and any time issues arose you would always brace yourself for anger. Here the first time it happened the response was, ‘What can we do to help?’ I had no words.
“Values and beliefs keep people here. If you are managing others the way you want to be managed, treating them with respect, people won’t leave. They become happy. I’ll tell you I could literally see myself retire here. I have never said that before.”
The reality is of course not every good employee will stay and the effort required to attract, train and keep good employees may seem like a lot. But it is critically important. “It is a problem for everyone, keeping employees,” Mach says. “We commit to training them, to making our company a good place to work, to valuing our employees and making them feel it. Are we always successful? No. But I think that is what it takes. There is that old chestnut about ‘Why would I want to invest in people who are just going to leave?’ The answer is yes, but what if you don’t and they stay?”
Source: SDM Magazine
While many say they are making a specific effort to hire and promote women, more say no or feel it is not necessary.
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