Case Studies

Falling into security as the sensible response

by Mark Rowe

Last week Prof Martin Gill’s consultancy Perpetuity Research brought out its latest SRI (Security Research Initiative) study, on influences on security as a career. With SRI’s typical insight and rigour the report (free to download at the Perpetuity website) analysed how the security industry is a career of chance, rather than choice. So much flows from that; training and qualifications, career paths, respect from other fields of work – or lack of all those; even the fact that security is still an industry, rather than a profession.

What if, however, far from it being a negative that so many people fall into the security sector, rather than consciously deciding to enter it – as a result of taking a university degree course, or seeing well-paid and well-respected role models worthy of following – what if, falling into security is the sensible response to a fast-changing world, where the companies to work for, the day to day tasks of a job, the job title, even the physical work space, did not exist when you began work; let alone when you were at school? asks Mark Rowe.

Not many of us can become the Archbishop of Canterbury or Bishop of Lichfield, or the Roman Pope, or a cardinal. They are among the few job titles that are more than a thousand years old (so far, there’s been 99 bishops of Lichfield; which rather puts the 46 presidents of the United States in the shade – or 45, depending on whether Donald Trump makes way for the 46th).

Consider by contrast how many of the jobs held by you, let alone your parents; whether you could still apply for them today; that is, do they exist any more? Chances are that at least some of those positions do not, in part or at all – the physical building has been knocked down, seemingly always turned into apartments or a hotel; the employer has changed name or gone bust; or the line of work – filing clerk, shorthand typist – has vanished, due to computers or other automation.

Historically, many people worked on the land, or were miners; you did what your father or mother did; if you did not feel that was for you, you ran away; to sea, into the Army, or to the city. To work on the land or in the mine you learned on the job; if you had money or showed ability and were talent-spotted, you entered a trade that required you to be apprenticed, or otherwise be schooled – learning the work (as a tailor, blacksmith, brewer or priest) while you were not doing the job well enough or at all to earn a wage.

In docks, and factories, the first recognisably modern security-policing jobs were as gatehouse- or nightwatch-men, typically to deter and prevent thieves from entering to steal, or to stop employees from taking stock away. As the methods and tools to secure workplaces had to develop, there was no pool of knowledgeable security people to hire. Hence the stereotypical hiring of former military or police men, as the nearest expertise to security.

A story here. In the early 1990s as a trainee shire newspaper reporter I got to know the divisional commander of police in the town I was working in. A year or two later, I was working in a nearby town when I entered an office in a bed factory, one of the town’s main employers. The head of security was that policeman, evidently retired, and now in industry. I was so surprised I greeted him with ‘hello, superintendent!’ I never saw him again.

The factory presumably employed him for a purpose; to stem stock loss. That was not quite the same as policing, let alone the largely bureaucratic job of commanding a quarter of a county that the newly retired man had left. The factory presumably wanted the human equivalent of a cat to catch mice pilfering, not a manager of cats. But the state of knowledge about security was such – let alone among non-specialists such as the bed factory management – that an ex-cop was the obvious, or indeed only sensible, hire.

Consider that that ex-cop had probably retired about 30 years’ service or more; that is, he had begun as a copper in the 1960s, trained and mentored by coppers whose experience went back to the 1940s, even 1930s.

By comparison, take Ashley Watson, whose career story so far in his own words was featured in the April to June 2020 print editions of Professional Security magazine. It reads as a step by step story; from starting in the industry for an installation company in the Home Counties, Frontline, after a more or less chance conversation that gave him the idea to specialise in security rather than be an electrician; to his present responsible and demanding job as an EMEA security and risk manager, working for the property management firm CBRE, at Refinitiv, which offers data services to global financial markets. In between he has pursued an interest in project management and design; and has been helped on the way by more experienced people who have both encouraged him and pointed him the way.

But to return to the earlier point; how much of what Ashley has done in 2020 – involving networked security and building systems – even was imagined when he was starting out at college, about 20 years ago? The very networks that Refinitiv and more household names such as Google, Amazon and the like are based on were not physically made, or invented, even; those companies were not incorporated, or only just had been and were unheard of; at least Refinitiv’s offices at Canada Square in Canary Wharf had already been built (in 1991); but that regeneration of London Docklands does rather prove the point; that well within living memory a former employment – docks, using plentiful labour – has been replaced by new sorts, typically using data. The old dock work still goes on – has to, as London and any city needs goods imported and exported – but it’s done upstream, and requires far fewer labourers. Besides automation, taking away jobs for humans, another theme of modern work is specialisation; not only security management, but sub-sets of it, personnel, electronic and networked, manned guarding, physical gates, locks and fences; and cyber and information.

Given, the ever-more specialising of jobs – even within cyber; you can be a forensic analyst, investigator, consultant – and that careers education has proven barely able to recognise that private security employs far more than the police (civilians and uniformed combined), let alone those sub-divisions of security; isn’t ‘falling into security’ the best anyone can do, confronted by bewildering change? Also, it’s one thing for the middle aged, more experienced person able to survey the field, to use a footballing metaphor, able to put their foot on the ball and look around for a moment, to choose the next move; the 16, 18 or 21-year-old school or college leaver has even less to go by. The SRI researchers heard from one respondent that they entered the police as a first career, before making a second career in security, as a result of watching the police-buddy comedy film Hot Fuzz.

That begs the question; in a world filled with ever more stuff – films, video games – are (impressionable) young people influenced in choice of work by heroes (or even anti-heroes) on screen, even fictional? Might future security professionals be inspired by George Lambert, the head of security in Jurassic World?

More in the December 2020 print edition of Professional Security magazine.

Photo by Mark Rowe; Blue Town, Isle of Sheerness, Kent; perimeter wall of former Royal Navy dockyard.

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