While individual learning validation should always be part of an instructional process, it is also advantageous to assess the organization as a whole.
Once upon a time security contracts were entered into for cost containment. That was the driving force behind them. Today cost is not the sole concern – there is more attention paid to the receipt of specialized, high-quality service. Increasingly, clients expect contract officer training to meet a specified standard. This can be a standard developed by the client organization itself or an industry standard of some type.
The role played by protection officers varies considerably among work environments. And that role is broadening with the emphasis on Homeland Security as well as the increased patrolling of public space. Contemporary security officers must know more, do more and interact more than their predecessors.
With the expansion of the protection officer role, there can be some role confusion. Is the officer an “enforcement” or “compliance” agent? Is the officer more concerned with projecting a positive image of management than responding to emergencies? Is the officer more concerned with safety than criminal incidents? Should the officer emphasize prevention over investigation?
The above questions are generic in that they relate to both contract and proprietary security personnel. But contract security officers face a more complex work environment. Contract security officers have an inherent level of dissonance due to the employer-client relationship. They protect client assets and interact continuously with client personnel but are employed by another organization.
A comprehensive professional development process allows the security officer to understand more. A knowledge base in a particular competency area (public relations, report writing, etc.) helps the officer understand why that function is important. It can help him or her to set priorities more clearly. Broadening the curriculum with additional topical areas helps the learner see how they fit together. This knowledge can only help the officer to better understand his or her role in protecting the client organization. The officer sees all the pieces, including the importance of each, and can better ask for guidance from superiors.
Pre-developed, packaged instructional packages save money. If a contract organization has an existing training package, the client organization benefits substantially from this. An off-the-shelf program saves money and speeds up performance. With concerns issues surrounding training, a quality program is more than worth the additional rate for coverage.
The amount, level and sophistication of training provided by contractors has increased dramatically over time. Those firms with corporate training structures enjoy a significant marketing advantage over smaller firms that aren’t so equipped. Today’s “big dogs” offer an array of professional development options to their officers. High-quality, job-relevant materials are delivered to employees of these firms. Often there is some type of proprietary certification process in which an officer completes a specified sequence of courses and receives a certification. All stakeholders benefit from this arrangement, and all should assess how they can capitalize upon it further.
Unfortunately there are those instances in which the contractor advertises the training but few if any officers actually receive it. This may be due to technological or logistical glitches that were unforeseen by the service provider. In other cases it is deliberate misrepresentation. The syndrome known as “Marketing” occurs when a select few officers participate in a highly impressive instructional program and give the illusion that such training is widespread. In extreme cases the “select few” can be a single officer!
The old adage “trust but verify” is a wise policy to follow by client organizations. Ascertain that all officers are receiving the training that the service provider has promised. Contact – the percentage of employees who undergo instruction – is key to evaluating this. Documentation of training coupled with occasional inquiries to the managers, supervisors and the officers themselves is mandatory.
Outsourcing training to a third party makes a lot of sense in terms of both cost savings and quality assurance. The cost of instructional program development is quite extensive. When one calculates the man hours required to assess training needs and develop lesson plans, instructional aids and testing instruments, it is painfully apparent that training may be unaffordable. Developing a training program is simply beyond the capabilities of most organizations. Using a provider who is dedicated to developing instructional packages is almost always more economical.
Quality assurance is a paramount consideration. Again, specialized instructional service providers are experienced at program development. They have “been there” and “done that” in terms of research. They have subject-matter experts on hand. They also possess instructional support software, learning aids and tests. Serious instructional service providers have long-standing reputations. Their client list is extensive and impressive.
Third-party instructional programs generally meet or exceed some type of recognized standard. As we advance as a society, the adoption of guidelines or standards is becoming more common. Protection managers must always assess what they are doing regarding guidelines (recommendations) or standards (mandates). While there may not be a specific guideline/standard in place now, it may develop in the near future. Obviously training programs should meet, and preferably exceed, state or provincial requirements and relevant industry standards. A necessary step is taking a look at how the instructional program compares to the recommendations of the Report of the Task Force on Private Security or the ASIS Standard on Security Officer Selection and Training. Provider organizations have already done this in most cases.
Local non-profit organizations may provide instruction at low to no cost. Many of these organizations have subject matter experts who can provide hands-on classes in necessary human service skills. Human relations, customer relations and crisis intervention training may be available. First aid, emergency management and communications classes can also be provided.
A training arrangement with a charitable organization can also enhance an organization’s image; it can extend their presence within a local community.
An added benefit may be that during crisis situations the client may have to work with the non-profit (American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries, etc.). Having a face-to-face relationship with that organization’s members beforehand can be a big help when things go south.
Professional Membership Gives Professional Identity
Some client managers arrange to pay for the costs of membership in professional organizations for contract security staff. While it may not be possible to give someone a raise, it may be within budget to pay for an employee to attend a conference or belong to a professional organization. Paying the ASIS dues of key contract staff can be a very effective means of keeping those folks professionally connected – and continuously learning.
And it speaks volumes about how the client organization feels about contract staff. It demonstrates commitment so that those people in turn feel committed to the client organization.
While individual learning validation should always be part of an instructional process, it is also advantageous to assess the organization as a whole. One “soldier” may be qualified in crucial tasks but may not work cohesively with other members of the “army.” And one “platoon” may not mesh well operationally with another. Drills are a means of assessing the level of coordination within the protection force as well as how well that force works with other components of the client organization.
Drills/scenarios are the “final exam” for the contingency plan – and for the security force. Drills provide a means of auditing post orders and procedures. They also provide a view on how people perform; you are able to assess the human side of the response function. Knowledge, skills and abilities are readily apparent – or not apparent – during a drill.
In a contract setting, drills may offer yet another advantage. Scenario exercises can get the contract company office staff involved. They can help to integrate the efforts of both the client organization and the service provider. A drill can provide added insight into client needs to contract firm management who aren’t onsite every day.
Caution must be exercised with running drills. Obviously safety and operational concerns must be assessed before initiating any exercises. A careful review of what is going to be done and potential problems that can result must be undertaken. Top management support must be obtained.
Perhaps even greater caution must be taken to ensure that security force members are not tested on areas that they have not been trained in. Placing a protection officer in a position of uncertainty where he or she can feel only discomfort does not achieve anything positive. Officers must be supported throughout the employment relationship. A comprehensive professional development process is key. Both clients and contractors play a role in providing this.