(TL;DR) We’re severely short of security professionals. The industry is backward and we need a total mindset change to secure our future.
In this day and age, safety and security are huge issues. Having read about bombings in Paris, Bangkok, Jakarta, and several new terrorism threats near home in Kuala Lumpur and even at home, the takeaway any informed individual is this:
Anything can happen anywhere.
The expected reaction to this is to be on high alert for all issues relating to security, and that has so far been the case for the SAF and Home Team. However, when it comes to the most basic of security in our homes and our workplaces, we face a completely different problem. With complacency and an ageing workforce, private security has been long overdue for an upgrade. In fact, a complete overhaul is in order.
Like, if I have any say in it, I’d have this guy stand outside my house to watch over us.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that 54-year-old Mr Chan standing outside your office building isn’t doing his job, or isn’t good enough. In fact, he’ll be retiring in the next 10 years, during which time Singapore will face a reduction of over a third of our private security personnel. In fact, we’re facing a reduction of our current security force of 43,000 to 20,000-25,000 if we don’t get some fresh blood soon.
Did you know we’re currently facing a shortage of some 10,000 security officers? Scary thought, I know.
The pool of security professionals is shrinking drastically, mainly because the job isn’t sexy enough, isn’t prestigious enough, and isn’t cool enough.
Perhaps it’s precisely how this security industry is not so glamourous that most of us don’t pay enough attention to it. Not even when the Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing dedicated a whole blogpost to it.
In his blog post in the Labour Movement’s blog, LabourBeat, NTUC’s Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing talked about the challenges that the industry faces.
Pay doesn’t solve everything
It’s easy to look at pay as the biggest and only problem to solve, especially when it comes to any profession. Increase the pay, and more people will be attracted to the job. Well, measures have already been taken to implement the Progressive Wage Model (PWM), which formalises the pay structure and also crafts new paths of career progression for security professionals.
But, surprise, surprise, money doesn’t solve everything.
The pay that you receive is an extrinsic reward, which psychologists have proven are less effective than intrinsic rewards in motivating people in their work and life. So while the progressive wage model has successfully increased the basic monthly salary for security officers from $700 to $1,100 once it comes into full effect later this year, people won’t be attracted to a career in private security if it doesn’t come with the reputation, satisfaction, and pride that people look for in a job.
Times have changed, and to many younger Singaporeans, pay isn’t everything anymore.
The industry isn’t built for efficiency
This part’s a tricky bit to understand, but an important part of the equation. Security is in itself a market, with many players, buyers and sellers alike. Each player is still competing on prices instead of quality, leaving the market stagnant and outdated. (Read more about outsourcing here.)
From a manpower perspective, organisations are still investing in short term contracts, and worse, including manpower input (i.e. headcount) as part of the specifications of the tender or contract. This means that your office building would be deemed more secure with five security officers of varying standards than a security system with perhaps fewer headcount but better processes, technology and equipment.
Here’s a pictorial example.
SG Chan is hoping to see a sweeping change in terms of mindset all the way from the service buyers. He advocates that the tender for the security services can be outcome-based, instead of headcount-based.
Also, if we’re able to explore longer-term contracting models, like the Public-Private Partnership types, then the security firms will also be more motivated to invest i better technology, equipment and training for the security officers.
The mindset that more feet on the ground is more secure is probably the worst thing an industry with a manpower shortage could ask for. It’s also the main reason why many security officers are forced to do crazy overtime hours, many of which leave them exhausted with dulled senses at the end of the day.
Check out this video and see if you can still tell me five pairs of feet patrolling the grounds is safer and more efficient than a system like this.
So let’s go back to the organisational contracts.
By favouring short term contracts (where you’re more likely to get overworked and tired uncles), the practice lacks the long term perspective that could in turn improve their overall security, like investing in a better security infrastructure instead of hiring part-time people to stand around all night. Which brings us to the next point.
There’s still a lag in technology adoption
The world is filled to the brim with innovation for security. From drones to sophisticated cameras with facial recognition capabilities, every location could be so much safer with the technology that we now have on hand. I mean, if we could buy security cameras that are wifi connected in our homes, how hard is it really to invest in a real security-intensive design in our offices and homes?
As SG Chan said in his blogpost:
“How often do we see private security personnel ‘patrolling‘ to ‘show presence‘? Why can’t some of these tasks be complemented by remote sensors that are cheaply available today? Why can’t we design a system that surgically applies human force/ presence in response to situations, rather than tire out the security personnel with walking rounds?
Training of the ‘man‘ and investment in the ‘machines‘ are really consequent to the better ‘methods‘ and clearer ‘mind-set‘ that we need to adopt.”
Security as an afterthought
Once we leave security as a last consideration when managing facilities, you end up compromising it. It is when we forget about it that we become the most vulnerable.
While the security sector is facing many changes, none of them can have much effect if we don’t make some changes of our own. It all starts with mind-set. Believing that security should come before convenience, design, and profit, and that the standards we have now just aren’t good enough. That security, even private security, is important enough to be respected and honoured.
Mindset threads through everything that we do, including the struggles we will face in the future.
The future is filled with uncertainty, especially with the threat of terrorism and the unstable economy. Nothing can be and should be taken for granted, and the last thing we should do is to standby and wait for things to happen.
SG Chan sums it up pretty well, I thought. He said in order for changes to happen, we need the four Ms, namely, Man, Machine, Method and Mindset. And mindset is the root of everything, and will influence the other three Ms.
The best people or parties to charge this mindset change are the service buyers. Perhaps the ministries, government agencies and GLS should take the lead; are they listening?