Securing guards

Demand for security has increased by 40 per cent in five years but labour retention remains a challenge 

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

Popowich says 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. A key issue is low wages, especially in smaller firms.

“Most of the very credible companies in the security industry, say the top 10 or eight, pay more than minimum wage and there’s very good wages to be made, ” he says.

The biggest hurdle is finding employees who have training in technology, Popowich notes. He says a large part of the job now involves managing security camera footage, engaging in electronic reporting and using devices like iPads.

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

According to B.C. government statistics, the need for security guards rose from 2009, when 16,164 licences were approved, to 2016, when 17,800 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 per cent in 2016 to $244 billion.

Paul Stanley, principal of security consultancy TSC Consulting, who holds a master’s degree in risk management, was part of BC Hydro’s corporate security team for nine years. He says 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.

Stanley says the major security companies 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 says. “[Security guards] 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 adds that finding security guards who will work for the wages available is difficult, and turnover is high. “This is not an easy task; ask any professional in the business,” he says.

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

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