Addressing Current New Labour Challenges in the Security Sector

This article appeared in the 2022 Winter issue of City Security.

The UK is facing staggering hiring and retention challenges. For the security industry, worker shortage is possibly the biggest obstacle companies face when preparing for a new year.

A landscape of change

The reasons behind this are twofold. Even before the pandemic, industries were experiencing post-Brexit worker shortages and immigration rules. Now, even as much of the public begins to treat COVID-19 in endemic stages, COVID has possibly altered the labour market for good, especially when it comes to the operations and management of critical workers.

During the height of the pandemic, the industry saw clear evolutions in customer expectations and contract requirements. In many cases, security guards, so often the ‘gatekeepers’ at commercial enterprises, became default screeners for COVID symptoms. Security presence was required at test and vaccine centres.

Combined with already staggering turnover rates as an industry norm, the security industry has seen a workforce loss in recent years. Market and consumer data expert, Statista, estimates a decrease of almost 8,000 security industry employees in the UK since 2010 alone. It can be assumed that some of that number, at least, has dwindled due to the volatility of recent years, ripple effects of Brexit and labour pool narrowing, and increased demands on physical security guards and the introduction of remote work.

Remote work in an on-site industry

A decade ago, remote work was a rarity in any industry, let alone security. While there may be some instances with administrative work, the fact remains that remote working models just aren’t an option when it comes to the demands of physical security in the field. Still, some workers are hesitant to return to field-based work, knowing remote work is an alternative.

If anything, the shift to remote work in other industries has increased the demands of physical security even more. As office spaces experience continued reduced occupancy, they’re arguably more at risk for theft, vandalism and access control. As a result, the demand for and from your guards is higher than ever.

Improving retention now

So, how can the security industry improve employee retention in a world of remote work? It’s not an easy problem to solve, but there are steps security leaders can take to improve retention overall, even accounting for recent added challenges in hiring and turnover.

Although remote work isn’t feasible in a work-from-home capacity for field-based contracts, distributed workforces have been working remotely long before it began to trend in recent years. Contracts require them to be on site, away from a centralised office location, completing tasks and assignments and proving service to managers who often don’t ever see them on a day-to-day basis.

If you view your distributed workforce as remote already, then some of their needs become more aligned with retention tactics being employed by other industries. For example, many industries, even in white-collar positions, are prioritising a digital employee experience as a way to support company culture, employee engagement and job performance. This is a strategy that can be duplicated for remote field-employees. The same can be said for retention tactics involving financial flexibilities, or non-traditional opportunities for scheduling.

What it boils down to is this: Just because the nature of manned guarding inherently demands in-person presence, do not immediately discount retention strategies being primarily used to attract, hire and retain a remote workforce.

How to build a digital employee experience

It’s all well and good to emphasise the importance of a digital experience, but how do you take steps to put it into practice? To start, implement a self-service portal for employees, where they have everything from company policies, notifications, employment information and payslips at their fingertips. By removing the need to contact your administrative team for every single thing, your employees will feel more empowered, engaged and trusted no matter where they are based.

How to increase flexibility for dispersed employees

As scheduling gaps occur, think about ways to offer more flexibility for both your payrolled employees and contracted ones. Consider adding integrations that enable your workforce to pick up work that comes available on a per-shift basis. It’s also an interesting tactic you can use to retain employees who are churning. By offering a way to keep them affiliated with your services in an ad hoc manner, you can continue to experience a return on investment in that employee’s training efforts, experience (and hiring costs), even if they’re no longer a full-time employee.

Also rethink how you’re fulfilling your commitments to your employees. Your workforce agrees to the terms of employment upon time of hire, but in reality, money is a constant worry on UK employees’ minds. Even if you’ve agreed to a certain payroll schedule, adding in a more flexible pay calendar (via on-demand earned wage access, for example) can have a substantial impact on employee retention.