Industry investment in apprenticeships and marketing is essential to avert a skills crisis, says Pat Allen, pictured, the chairman of the Fire and Security Association (FSA).
In a survey by Fire and Security Jobs last year, 80 per cent of security businesses said they were anticipating an increase in turnover in 2014, but 75 per cent also expressed concern about the availability of skilled labour. Of the manufacturers polled, almost half (45 per cent) said they were already struggling to fill technical positions in their companies – worrying statistics at a time of economic recovery, when we need good people to help us sustain it.
Part of the skills problem in our industry is a total lack of awareness of fire and security as a career choice among school leavers and young people.
The irony is that the security systems sector would appeal greatly to tech-savvy young people if only they knew. As IP technology for installation and monitoring continues to grow, we have a unique opportunity to present the security systems sector as a place where young people can develop skills they already use for leisure to build a career. Here is a generation of people for whom social media and IT are second nature, yet we are failing to attract them.
This problem can only be resolved with support from initiatives like the ‘Inspiring the Future’ campaign, which involves professionals going into schools to talk about their careers in their respective industries and the opportunities open in these sectors for young people. I attended an event as part of this initiative earlier in the year, and the reaction from the pupils there, many of whom knew nothing about our industry before I spoke to them, was inspiring in itself. Who knows, maybe one of those pupils will end up sitting in my seat at the FSA?
Programmes like this and the 100 in 100 campaign – which aims to fill 100 apprenticeship vacancies in 100 days – will help to promote our industry to a wider audience and showcase the variety and diversity of our businesses. But it’s only really a start. We need to work harder to raise our profile to compete for good people’s attention at this critical time.
The other major contributing factor to the skills shortage is a lack of investment by the industry itself – the very businesses who stand to do well as the economy improves. While more than 20,000 apprenticeships were pledged during this year’s National Apprenticeship Week, 50 per cent more than in 2013, security firms were largely noticeable by their absence. And before you say, it wasn’t just big business that was investing; an impressive 47 per cent of the new apprenticeships are being created by small and medium sized enterprises. It is vitally important that we help ourselves out of the dual hole of a serious shortfall and an ageing workforce.
And it’s not just young people coming in to our sector that we need to ensure are skilled. Adult entrants also need training and we need to ensure that our existing workers continue to develop their skills. The vast majority of employers and customers now wish to see demonstrable skills backed up by evidence of professional training and recognised certification.
We need to promote the security industry as an attractive and lucrative career path for people starting work for the first time but also for people outside of the industry who demonstrate a good work ethic and enthusiasm to learn the industry. Re-skilling workers from other industries will be a vital step in tackling the talent crisis. By targeting the technically minded talent of other industries, we have access to a wide variety of employees that with some training would make an efficient and sustainable workforce.