The Talent Struggle: Hiring and Retaining Talent in the Security Industry

By: Jon Polly | Mar 03, 2022

These days, finding the right talent is one of the biggest struggles. The most valuable resource, and the resource in shortest supply, is the employee. According to Security Business Magazine, State of the Industry 2021 Report released in December 2021, hiring and retaining qualified employees was by far the top business challenge. While COVID has played a role in this predicament; the trend has been coming for a while.   

No company wants their good talent to leave and be left with the arduous task of finding the next right talent. When good talent leaves, there is inevitably a hole. The company is faced with work that is continuing, without the person versed with the most unwritten information needed to fill that role. As David Shearer, CEO, (ISC)2 states in a Infosecurity-Magazine interview, “There is always a financial cost associated with turnover. To retain folks, you need a culture that will keep them there. People will stay someplace if they think it’s a cool place to work. People want to know their employer empathizes with them, and cares.” There is a caveat to this. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the medium tenure of workers ages 25 to 34 years is 2.8 years, and one could argue that this trend has encapsulated more than just the millennial age group. Why? A recent LinkedIn Poll conducted by Jonathan Harris with Latch poses the greatest challenge to the Young Professional in the security industry today—the lack of a clear career path, followed by a lack of development options.  

The Hiring Process 

The security industry is a small industry, and it finds companies, both integrators and manufacturers, offering money or perks to poach the best technicians and sales staff from other companies. According to a quote by Ryan Joseph of Recruit Group, “Our industry has now shifted to a candidate-driven market, in which companies must roll out the red carpet to court candidates for highly competitive and readily available jobs.” However, this sometimes is not possible, or simply refused.   

There are many applicants with no experience in the industry or applicants that have resumes that include every competitor in the market. While a warm body may be the immediate requirement, here is a situation to consider. Let’s say, for example, an owner of a company has two customer service employees. One employee is a superstar and could seal any deal with a potential client, with additional upsells. The other employee has the customer service skills of a porcupine; turning potential clients and coworkers away because of their poor attitude. The porcupine employee costs the company two customers for every one customer the superstar employee brings in. On top of losing customers, other employees leave the company due to the toxic environment created by the porcupine employee. The moral of the story is to hire for the right attitude, look for employees that will embody the culture. Skills can be taught.   

Define The Culture 

The culture of the security industry is important. It is not just the long hours of windshield time and the inevitable overtime, but the specific culture of the company. Explain the company culture up front. While this may seem like a mundane task, it sets the stage of expectation. If the person is not able to accept the culture of the company, it will never be a good fit.   

Retaining the Hire 

Companies across every industry have to rethink how to retain talent. Maybe it can be traced back to companies offering foosball tables, in-house baristas, and bean bag chairs; or the shift in society that wants minimal responsibility. Whatever the motivation, retaining employees has gotten significantly harder.   

Cultivate Initiative 

Does the workplace cultivate initiative or stifle it? This is a question that each integrator must decide.  Cultivating initiative is a directed process that many integrators want but fail to implement successfully. This may create a shift in how business is done, but it may find qualified talent that stays. When an employee takes the initiative, reward it; it doesn’t have to be an extra dollar an hour, it may be as simple as taking the employee to a hearty lunch or bringing in donuts for breakfast. This is going to look different for every company, but these gestures create a culture that breeds commitment and initiative.   

Salary  

According to Ziprecruiter.com the average salary for a security technician is $50,164.00 per year nationwide. However, security manufacturers and fortune level companies are now bringing this talent inhouse and offering starting pay significantly higher. Additionally, cyber security is now a huge trend, and for the security person who is computer savvy, they are finding six figure jobs at IT (Information Technology) provider companies. There are also a vast number of skilled resources being scooped up by technology manufacturers that operate in the security industry, where salary and benefits packages are hard to outdo.  To the integrator, how much is top talent worth to keep? 

Training  

Employees stay at companies that are willing to invest in their employees. Lack of training and lack of clear direction are directly affecting employee and employer moves. Employers are afraid to spend money on training just to see the person leave or ask for a raise. This causes many integrators to assume they can offer free training; on-the-job or manufacturer training that benefits the employer’s need. The reality is, high achieving employees are going out and funding their own training, and then leaving anyway; because they were unable to receive the raise or because they feel the company does not have their interest in consideration. As a rule, when sending someone to training, send two.  

Know the Employee 

While a respectable number of managers know what their employees are doing on Saturday afternoon, or their favorite place to eat; most do not know what makes their employees thrive; those themes that drive who their employees are. Those themes become skills that lead to superpowers when exercised, just like exercising a muscle. Tap into those superpowers and watch out, the employee is going to thrive and make the company money in the process. The CliftonStrengths Assessment by Gallup is one of the preferred tools used to maximize potential at work, but there are others. While these tools cannot be used by Human Resources to hire or dismiss employees, they can provide great insight into where the employee is best suited in the company, directing their career path.  

Avoid Retention Tactics 

Many companies try to get their Return on Investment (ROI) and have an employee(s) sign a document that holds a financial penalty if they leave. This gesture may prevent someone from taking valuable training, as this becomes a forced servitude. Another tactic for retention is the non-compete. The non-compete is designed to protect the business from losing customers. Three truths about non-competes: 1) They are rarely enforceable, 2) the non-compete won’t stop someone from leaving, in fact it may make them more bitter about staying, and 3) preventing good talent from talking with a customer they have dutifully taken care of won’t prevent the customer from leaving if the same duty of care is not continued.     

A third tactic comes more in a tactic of indignation, but it happens in companies every day. Never threaten an employee’s job or income. Off-the-cuff remarks are windows into the soul, and when management threatens a person’s livelihood, many use that as the catalyst to find their next job. From a management standpoint, this behavior should be addressed quickly to prevent a toxic workplace. A vast number of sources state most employees leave companies because of their managers and/or supervisors, not their actual jobs. The book Arsonist in the Office states that “building a great culture is always a worthy goal, but fireproofing it is just as important.” If good talent is leaving, is there an arsonist in the office? 

Rethink the Norm 

Is outsourcing an option? Traditionally, the security industry has evaded using the gig economy. The freelance market once thought to be filled with musicians and ridesharing has been injected with a shot of adrenaline because of COVID. Side hustles became the hustle. With this shift, qualified system engineers, sales engineers, and project managers are just a contract away. According to the same Security Business Magazine article, State of the Industry 2021 Report, while 86.5% of integrators have not used freelance talent, the other 13.5% has, and the trend is growing. This new way of business is helping integrators, both struggling and those well positioned, to respond faster to quotes and projects without the cost of a full-time employee. There are no benefits, no vacation, no frills, just one contract at a time.   

Conclusion 

At the end of the day, employees are going to weigh their options and decide to stay or leave. The better they are understood and treated may weigh more into their decision to stay.  Hire for the attitude and culture acceptance. Treat the employee right and most will bend over backwards for the company. Create a culture of loyalty that shows the employee they are heard, a culture that promotes each employee’s goals and skills, encouraging growth and initiative. Do this and find quality employees as well as retaining them may become less of a concern. If in the end the employee does decide their career path leads them in another direction, support their decision; the security industry is small, and it is very possible to run into them again. 

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