Basic Training for Guard Duty

Guards are key players in an organization's physical security roster. To groom good ones requires a commitment to both train them and provide them opportunities to grow.

If CSOs and their HR managers were a brutally honest bunch, the ad for a security guard position might read something like this:

Wanted: An experienced security professional with excellent written and verbal communication skills. Leadership qualities are critical and must include integrity, respect, honesty and professionalism. Candidate must be calm and focused during the occasional crisis, and diligent and attentive to the rote tasks that take up most work time. A long-term interest in the security field is a plus, although career growth may be limited. Military or public-safety experience a plus. Candidates should have good credit, a spotless background, a high level of self-motivation and creativity in problem solving. Benefits are unlikely and pay will be low.

The lowliest employees in the security hierarchy, security guards and surveillance personnel, present a major hiring challenge for CSOs. These entry-level positions can be boring and low-paying, and many companies view them as dead-end jobs. In 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that salaries for contract guards (then representing about 53 percent of the total guard employment pool) averaged $19,400 a year. Salaries for private guards employed directly by a company were on average about 25 percent higher than those of their contract counterparts, at $24,141. The combination of low pay and the drudge work inherent with manning a turnstile, patrolling a parking lot or staring at a bank of cameras leads to incredibly high turnover. Mike Phelan, vice president of training for AlliedBarton Security Services, one of the largest providers of security guards for corporate America, touts his company's low annual turnover rate, which clocks in at a whopping 58 percent. That's progress, Phelan says, when compared with industry rates he's seen cited at 150 percent to 200 percent a year.

Although turnover is high and the work is often less than challenging, the job function is critical to a corporation's overall security. On a daily basis, guards and security officers are the eyes and ears that alert the security department to any suspicious activity. They are usually the first responders to any incident onsite, and in an emergency they become the voice of the security department, communicating emergency procedures and shepherding employees to safety.

Good training for entry-level employees is the cornerstone of a successful security staff. Not only does it improve the quality of the service that guards, security officers and surveillance personnel provide, it also acts as a jumping-off point for job growth and further training, and allows management to identify talented employees and promote them through the ranks. Rather than a cul de sac, an entry-level security position can be the beginning of a rewarding career.

"Entry-level positions are quite critical because that's where you identify the future leaders within your group," says Zachary Lowe, vice president and CSO of Waste Management. "If you see someone who has potential, train them appropriately and keep them interested, you may have a very valuable employee down the road."

We spoke to CSOs and industry experts to get their best tips and techniques for crafting a training program that will improve the quality of your company's security. We've also included some advice on how to improve employees' job satisfaction while helping the company's bottom line. Sound impossible? Read on.

Present Tailor-Made Lessons

The first thing that an entry-level training program should do is orient the trainee to the company he'll be guarding. Guards—on staff or contract—must learn what risks and threats are unique to their company and industry in order to play their role in mitigating those threats. If the company is located in a bad neighborhood, the greatest threats might be crimes against employees such as assault and theft of personal items. If the company has a lot of intellectual property, stolen laptops and unauthorized access might be the biggest problems. Trainees also need to understand the company culture and the sensibilities of the people (fellow workers, customers, the public) they'll be serving. A boorish and overbearing security guard is seldom popular, but that kind of posture would be better tolerated by people at an airport security checkpoint than it would be by families in a toy store.

At retailer Saks, the training program for new store detectives is a 90-day process, says Dave Ferguson, the company's vice president of loss prevention and safety. At its core is a checklist that walks the trainee, trainer and manager through each element of the program: policies and procedures, professional conduct, use of computers and other technologies, observation skills, and understanding how different functions like receiving and the cash office work. During this time, trainees also observe experienced store detectives stopping suspected shoplifters from leaving stores; they can see the process at work, which later helps when they undergo instructional training to learn how to deal with someone who flees or becomes combative. At the tail end of the process, applicants participate in two online training sessions from a company called RuMe Interactive. The first one is a four-hour training and testing session that takes the applicant through a series of video vignettes about shoplifting and appropriate response protocols. The applicant is tested on the material, and those who fail must undergo another two weeks of training. If an applicant fails again, he can't work in loss prevention at Saks. If the applicant passes that test, he then undergoes a second training session called Sensitivity Training for Loss Prevention, which educates and tests applicants in responding to situations consistently regardless of a suspect's race or social status.

At AlliedBarton, guard applicants typically undergo a one-day training program, although the company modifies this program in states where regulations mandate more training (see "Mandates for Security Training," Page 54). The company's Security Officer Basic Course covers a broad swath of information in a pretty short period of time. "We talk about emergency situations including medical emergencies, fires, bomb threats and weather emergencies," says Phelan. "We cover access control and do lessons on report writing, legal powers and limitations, communications and public relations, customer service, ethics and conduct." Following the course, applicants must pass a 50-question multiple-choice exam, or they won't be hired.

Keep On Teaching

Small bits of training over an extended period of time tend to work better than one huge chunk of training up front. Although AlliedBarton's Security Officer Basic Course must cover a lot of material to prepare officers to go out in the field, Phelan advises CSOs to think of training as never ending. "If I have 10 things I want to teach, it's better to teach one thing a day for 10 days than 10 things in one day," says Phelan. To that end AlliedBarton launched, a Web-based training site where employees can take professional development courses and work toward their next career goals in security. offers 15 courses in topics like preventing workplace violence and managing conflict.

Continuing education is a critical element in fighting the high turnover rates that plague the lowest levels of security work. At UPS, the security group holds specialized "schools," courses in job skills like behavioral analysis, investigation technique or technology use. The company will also send employees for outside education for more instruction in an area of particular interest, says Sergio Rodriguez, UPS's vice president of security for the Americas.

Instead of simply droning on to people in an endless classroom-style lecture or just plopping them down in front of a video (a common misuse of training time), CSOs and experts interviewed for this story have found that a combination of teaching techniques gives the best returns. In AlliedBarton's security officer basic course, Phelan combines some lecture with small group exercises, role-playing, group discussions and even pop quizzes. The course is always followed up with on-the-job training at the work site, where guards take up to five days to learn about the policies and procedures of the company and gain some proficiency with any access control or other technologies they will need to use.

Joe Cantamessa, vice president of corporate security for Dow Jones, is also a proponent of on-the-job training. "Classroom training does not lend itself to people who learn at different speeds," he says. "Learning on the job is effective because it does not have a structured time frame, and it allows people to experience different facets of the security operation."

Establishing a mentor program for new hires is a great way to make the most of learning on the job. Cantamessa describes the mentor-mentee relationship as a continuity plan. "When the experience and learning among the senior people gets shared with less senior people, it ensures that your talent, training and experience are spread throughout instead of residing in just one or two people,"he says. The program gives new security hires someone to go to with questions or for clarifications.

Combining classroom-style learning with online programs like the one used at Saks has become popular for several reasons. First, the format is interactive, so it creates a more engaging learning experience for the trainee. Second, it sets a baseline education level for each new hire. At Saks, Ferguson has 600 people under him as a loss prevention executive. Some of the people who train these employees may place emphasis on different aspects of the job. One trainer in Wisconsin might focus on the behavioral characteristics of spotting a shoplifter, and a trainer in Mississippi might talk more about spotting internal theft, Ferguson notes. But when employees undergo online training, he knows that each one of them has been exposed to the same material and has taken the same test. Better yet, he has documentation of when they took the test and how well they performed. "If there's ever a situation where the action of one of our team members is called into question, we have a thorough, consistent and well-documented process, and that becomes a very potent tool in court," he says.

The last element of an effective training program is ensuring that the trainee is tested. In an initial training session, testing can garner you a bit more attention from your audience. "If people know that they're going to be tested on something, they pay more attention," says Phelan the pop-quizzer. But testing is also effective as a longer-term measure of how well the security training you've done is holding up. UPS has facilities on airport properties, and the company can't take any chances with the quality of its perimeter guard force. "We test it constantly," says Rodriguez, "and there's not a lot of room for mistakes. We make sure that the security officers understand the expectations about who comes and goes and what level of ID is required, and then we test them. We recruit employees they don't know from other buildings and see if they can penetrate, or we'll get somebody on the property to create a scenario and see how they deal with it."

Create a Career Ladder

An introductory training program is just the first step. Companies that start with a good training program need to keep the momentum going by providing further training opportunities for entry-level security workers. "We've tried to address turnover through building career ladders," says Lowe. "You can always hire someone at the expert level, but they're of limited use. We have a large number of facilities, so we can afford to have a number of positions at the entry level and build them to a career level." At Saks the security department often looks at internal candidates first for promotions and may even give an internal candidate with less experience precedence over an external candidate. "There may be an outside candidate that looks good, but if there's an internal person and it's a great opportunity for them to grow we'll be much more comfortable knowing what his or her skill set is," says Ferguson.

Saks also tries to be sensitive to the changing needs of the workforce. While many security departments still draw a few applicants from the ranks of retired cops, an increasing number of young people are joining the security field, and they have different expectations from a job. "We're finding that young people like to be empowered to make their own decisions, they like to have flexibility in their work schedules, and they shun the old-school workaholic attitude of 60-hour weeks, late nights and weekends," says Ferguson. Saks is making a conscious effort to manage those people differently.

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