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A living wage: Cityguard sets new standard, challenges industry to follow

NZ Security Magazine, Apr-May 2018

Cityguard director, Ian Crawford.Cityguard director, Ian Crawford.


Cityguard director Ian Crawford talks to NZSM about why he’s decided that providing guarding services should no longer be a ‘race to the bottom’, and why he’s doing something about it.


Ian Crawford has a vision for the security industry, and it looks nothing like the industry of today. Nothing like the industry that since its inception has settled on a vision of itself as bottom rung, and which has set its prices, its standards and its wages accordingly.

He doesn’t see himself as part of an industry that provides a service that for many of its customers represents a grudge purchase – something they know they have to have but don’t particularly want, or value.

Rather, he sees himself as part of an industry that will deliver exactly what a market that understands the true value of security is after. He plans on showing the market exactly what that is, and he plans on delivering it.

In a 22 March media release, Crawford threw down the gauntlet, announcing that Cityguard would be the first company in the local security industry to introduce the living wage - increasing its base hourly rate for its employees to $20.20 – more than 28 percent above the minimum wage.

As he sees it, the industry is long overdue for a shake-up, and introducing the living wage is just part of an extensive programme he’s implementing to improve overall working conditions for his employees.

It’s perhaps an unlikely position for someone who spent the first decade of his career between London and New York as a currency options broker, and the second in commercial real estate, but he’s playing a long game – and he’s just getting started.

“Over the past four years, we have been very focused on making Cityguard NZ an employer of choice in this industry,” he said. “This is another part of the ongoing plan to create a socially-sustainable company with the intention of creating meaningful change in the industry.”


Towards a 40-hour week

Identifying and embedding three core values (safety, courtesy and family) into everyday decision-making and processes in the company means that some things have had to change, including shift structures and the number of hours worked.  His staff now work an average of 40 hours (with a maximum 60 hour/ eight day 'week': five days on and three days off), instead of the industry norm 60-plus hours.

“This allows every one of my workers to rest properly, travel off-peak and spend quality time with their families,” he said. “The change in work hours has also meant a number of spouses and partners have been able to take on a job, doubling the income for that family.”

As he sees it, a 60-hour maximum is still too much, but you have to start somewhere. “The dream of people working a maximum 40 hours per week is not sustainable at this stage until the market pays more for a guard.”


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Living wage ‘Plus’: Incentivising training

According to Crawford, paying people more money is just part of the answer. Additionally, he has incentivised training and education, providing pay increments to staff as they achieve each NZQA qualification level.

At each position classification there is a $10 per hour difference between the base pay level and the maximum depending on what level qualification an employee has achieved.

In addition to this is a supervisor program. “To be qualified as a supervisor with us you must have been to every single site that we have and be able to run a patrol team, know all the runs, etc. You have to have been involved in people’s personal development plans, have done HR assessments, know the technology, how the control room works, GPPS, radios, if there’s a failure what to do, and our backup systems.”

The program takes between 9 and 18 months to complete depending on a range of factors. “By the time a guard has completed that training,” he suggests, “they should be able to walk into an operations manager job with any employer.”


A full-time job

Of Cityguard’s 120 staff, 80 are full-time, but he’s hoping that paying the living wage will bring more employees over into the full-time cohort.

Aiming for a full-time workforce also means being selective about the type of work Cityguard does, which is a reason why the company has largely pulled out of providing security for events. They made a decision about 18 months ago to specialise in patrols, static guarding and concierge services.

“We have fewer no-shows and ‘sick days’, staff turnover is down, and individual engagement levels are high,” he points out. “People feel as though they really belong – like they are part of something bigger than themselves – and that creates an environment that is conducive to staff satisfaction and career sustainability.”


Pride and Professionalisation

According to Crawford, the industry continues to suffer from a systemic perception problem. “Security is not necessarily seen as necessary in New Zealand – customers don’t see the value in it. They see a guy on his phone or asleep. They see a guy not doing his job.

“I think it’s because we don’t treat security as a career, and the thing is that at $16.50 an hour it’s not a career, it’s a job.

“If you walk into a bar in Manhattan, you’re served by a professional bar man. That’s not the case here [in New Zealand], apart from one or two select establishments. This industry suffers from exactly the same thing. It’s not a career, and why is it not a career? Because it’s not sustainable to earn $15 or $16 an hour and think you’d make a career out of that.”

“Until we change the attitude about making security a career for people, there won’t be a change in attitude about the job.”


The price is not right

Like many industry elders who have slugged it out in security for far longer than he, Crawford sees guarding services as very much a race to the bottom. In the zero-sum battle for market share, ridiculously low pricing has been the weapon of choice, and the industry itself has become its own long-suffering casualty.

“There’s been ‘strategic pricing’ and the bigger guys have got themselves in a hole. They’re not delivering on a product that people want, they can’t afford to put the resources in because they’ve priced it too low, they can’t go back to their existing customers and say “pay me more” – the customers are already disappointed with what we’ve got so why would they pay more?”

“The good thing is that there’s certainly no room for bribery – nobody’s making enough to bribe anybody!”

“It’s time for change and if the industry doesn’t do it I think it’s going to be forced to do it. There’s an inevitability about the fact that the quality of guards has to change and customers are going to demand it. The bigger guys are going to have to start pricing things appropriately – you have to be able to run a margin.”

Ironically, he believes that the quality of service has been such that customers will pay for a better service.

“We’re picking up the contracts that we are and making headway because we’re a cut above. Not everybody is prepared to pay more, but there is definitely a move to see providers acknowledge that there is an importance attached to what’s going on, and that a security guarding service can make a business difference.”


‘Too hard basket’ myth busted

While Crawford’s objective is to make a change in the industry, whether or not others follow suit, he’s making the changes for his own people.

“I’d like to effect the industry because I’ve looked at it and I don’t think there is any need for it to work the way it currently is. It’s not sustainable.”

According to New Zealand Security Association CEO Gary Morrison, Cityguard has achieved something that has been in the 'too-hard basket' for the industry for a while.  “The changes that Ian Crawford has made since he took over the company in 2014 are nothing but positive, and the challenge now will be for the rest of the industry to follow suit,” he said.

“From a purely financial point of view it puts us at a massive disadvantage because our cost base is considerably higher than everybody else’s,” Crawford admits. “We’re not for everyone, and there’s certain types of work that we can’t take because of the margins.”

But again, Crawford is playing a long game, powered by an over-the-horizon vision that very few before him have been willing to chance. Only time will tell whether history will be on his side, but for an industry that seems hard-stuck in a decades-long holding pattern at the bottom of the market food chain, one can’t help but hope that he’s onto something.


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