Securing the security industry

The sector is booming in Canada and elsewhere, but hiring remains an issue

Dan Popowich, CEO of Commissionaires BC: the security industry is expanding but finding suitable employees remains difficult | Chung Chow

The security industry is growing so rapidly that the sector faces huge hurdles in hiring and retaining enough employees, industry insiders say.

Dan Popowich, CEO of security firm Commissionaires BC, said multiple industries including airports, local governments, pipelines, universities, construction and non-core policing are all hiring more security – and have been for the past few years.

“It’s just widely expanding,” said Popowich. “I was just looking at a report: in Canada’s private security industry [hiring has] gone up 40% in five years. We have 140,000 people in private security in Canada alone now.”

Popowich said finding good employees remains a challenge for outfits such as Commissionaires BC, which is run as a not-for-profit with 2,100 employees in B.C. and annual revenue of $50 million.

“It’s always a burden because the pay is not that great,” he said. “The pay is not minimum wage – some people think it is, and it could be as some companies pay minimum wage. But overall most of the very credible companies in the security industry, let’s say the top 10 or eight, pay more than minimum wage and there’s very good wages to be made.”

Popowich said the biggest hurdle is finding employees who have training in technology. He said a large part of the job now involves managing security camera footage, engaging in electronic reporting and using devices like iPads. Popowich said there are still basic security jobs, such as watching over construction sites, that do not require as much training, but those jobs are dwindling. He added he doesn’t think the influx of new immigrants can help solve the industry’s problem of low employee retention.

“Although we encourage new immigrants to apply, we find that most of them, and I’m talking in terms of our company, do not meet the skill sets of writing and understanding and speaking English.”

Popowich said a lot of companies are not willing to pay more when it comes to security contracts, which pushes the industry into a catch-22.

“If we can obviously pay more, then it would attract a different type of person,” he said. “The other thing is if we could charge more, then we could provide more training to our officers.”

According to B.C. government statistics, the need for security guards rose from 2009, when 16,164 licences were approved, to 2015, when 17,590 were issued. The number of security consultants, the installation of closed-circuit televisions and electronic locking devices and alarm installations under supervision also grew during that period. The global demand for security services rose 7.4% in 2016 to $244 billion.

Paul Stanley, who runs the security consultancy TSC Consulting and holds a master’s degree in risk management, was part of BC Hydro’s corporate security team for nine years. He said wages for security guards are on par with the fast-food industry, which doesn’t reflect the amount of responsibility taken on by security personnel, especially with increasing regulation and rising training standards.

Stanley said the major security companies across Canada require extensive training before their guards are assigned to their duties. Personnel also are required to have a high level of English reading, writing and speaking skills for most positions, and they must also be licensed by the government.

“Guards [are] able to participate in employer-supplied training that enables them to provide first aid and CPR,” Stanley said. “[They must be able] to effectively manage a stressful encounter with the public, to communicate with the client’s senior management, to write security occurrence reports using advanced software, to manage complex closed-circuit video systems and to administer access control functions using the latest systems available.”

Stanley added that finding security guards who will work for the wages available and provide a wide range of services is difficult, and turnover is high.

“This is not an easy task; ask any professional in the business,” he said.

Popowich said some regular clients are starting to understand that they can’t simply lowball contracts.

“Some of them do understand that you get what you pay for these days.”