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Skills summit: call to action

Ahead of the Security Industry Authority’s skills summit on March 12 in London NW1, Steve McCormick, SIA director of operations and standards and that day’s host, speaks to Mark Rowe.

Steve stressed that he does not want the occasion to be a talking shop. As he suggested at the SIA’s annual conference in November, a skills board, or a skills council, could take issues forward. And potentially, the issues are various and substantial – quite apart from actual skills, whether sector-specific or such as counter-terrorism awareness; how does the SIA-badged security officer demonstrate, with a piece of paper and qualification, or by some other means, that he can do things, and has experience? In a word, value?

If the SIA-badged officer takes jobs in-house or otherwise beyond the SIA’s fields of regulation, what are the ways to show clients and wider society what he can do? How does the ‘skills agenda’ fit in with the wider economy’s apprenticeships, and continuous professional development (CPD). What of a ‘career pathway’, from SIA front-line officer to superviser and manager, which may imply a link to degree-level qualifications from universities?

In short, it’s striking how wide-ranging the ‘skills summit’ can be. And the background, as Steve mentions in passing, UK private security faces a ‘skills shortage’. Leaving Steve a moment, in the February 2020 print issue of Professional Security magazine the contract guarding veteran Stuart Lowden suggested that later this year the employment market may ‘heat up’, leaving guard firms facing a ‘bumpy ride’, in a sector facing incredibly low margins, finding it harder to retain and recruit staff. In short, skills – not only training and refresher-training staff, but recognising staff for having more skills and bettering themselves – are central to commerce.

Professional Security raised with Steve, Brexit, and the new Boris Johnson government – not so much asking him for a comment about politics, but to wonder; is this skills agenda an idea whose time has come? Steve did reply in terms of the labour supply on the front line, but also about other drivers of the ‘skills agenda’; the many and various ways that the private security sector is developing, due to technology, but also the roles that society is asking private security to take. Such as; public, high street patrols.

As Steve said, where does public and private security start and stop; is there a gap between the two? Do the ‘stake-holders’, such as the people buying guarding services, and the police, understand what private security can bring? And again, how to show what skills and experience the guard patrollers have, beyond the basic training required to apply for the SIA licence? Typically those questions arise in the night-time economy; but where guards are liaising closely with police, the police may also wonder if guards are able and equipped to staff a cordon, when asked. In Steve’s view there is not a national (that is to say, official) strategy or view on such private security in the public space, although there is as he mentioned the community safety accreditation scheme (CSAS).

While, then, there is much to discuss, to repeat, Steve does not want March 12 to be a ‘talking shop’, but describes it as a ‘call to action’, to lead to people nominated for working groups. That does beg the question; what is the role of the SIA, as the regulator, compared to the industry sectors that it regulates? Steve did answer that: “We do see ourselves as helping, facilitating, and providing a platform for the industry.”

More in the March 2020 print issue of Professional Security magazine.

About the summit; it’s free to attend, but the SIA asks that you register beforehand, and can only take two people per organisation.


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