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NZ's security industry slammed for failure to train

NZ Security, Feb/Mar 2017

Leadership needed: can security achieve a collective industry agreement with increased training that doesn’t come out of guards' pay-packets?Leadership needed: can security achieve a collective industry agreement with increased training that doesn’t come out of guards' pay-packets?


In the first of a two-part feature, Keith Newman asks how the security guard industry can redefine itself to meet 21st century challenges when most indicators are that it’s stuck in a 1970s rut [click here for Part Two].


Economic survival and reputations are on the line as security companies are challenged over low skills, old school attitudes and failure to prepare for an increasingly sophisticated client base that won’t settle for untrained feet on the beat.

The industry, found wanting for its de facto setting of ‘the cheapest bid wins’ and its treatment of staff, is facing a reality check through new health and safety requirements, changes to immigration and human resources rules and an emerging government-led risk averse security culture.

Michael Moriarty, First Security’s national training manager, says the industry needs to refocus on quality and training rather than “forcing the bottom line down”, and can only blame itself for its lack of professionalism. He says its “an indictment on the industry” that so little has changed since the 1970s and 80s and how security of cers are perceived and treated today

It is “a low margin business with no appetite for training beyond the basics... dumbed down through the process of having security companies compete over lower rates of pay per hour for contracts”.

“In its 2016 Report of External Evaluation and Review of The Skills Organisation, NZQA characterises the industry as ‘a competitive and price- sensitive environment with a high staff turnover’ of mainly part-timers, often on minimum wages and working long hours.”

Lance Riesterer of The Skills Organisation says he would like to see the Security industry take a more cohesive approach in promoting and supporting industry training.


High risk and demand

The fact that guarding is held in such low esteem isn’t helped by ve-year-old industry data on the government’s Careers website claiming easy access to jobs with “no specific training requirements”.

The site, targeted at immigrants, cites initial pay rates of $11-$12 an hour, well below the current minimum wage ($15.25 from April 2016). After one to three years’ experience, states the site, candidates can earn $15 - $17 an hour and up to $25, a claim likely to lead to disappointment.


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The “no specific training” claim isn’t far from the truth. After a police background check and a clean record for the past seven years, raw recruits can be out guarding or on patrol, as long as they hold a Certificate of Approval (COA) from the Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority (PSPLA). 

That’ll take around 20 hours boning up on industry basics including conflict management. As at 11 January 2017, PSPLA states there were 1,924 security company licences, 803 individual licences and 36,049 COAs, although not all COA holders are in the security industry.

The COA provides 12 credits toward the National Security Certificate Level 2, which requires another 350 hours of mainly classroom training, something very few guards complete.


Training not working

There is growing concern over the lack of training for unlicensed or temporary licence holders in the three months before a COA becomes mandatory, and even then whether the mandatory training COA is adequate.

New Zealand Security Association (NZSA) CEO Gary Morrison wants a serious review of what guards are being taught and why next level qualifications and training aren’t working for the industry.

In 2015 there were an estimated 15,955 employees in the security industry; an increase of 4,500 from 2010, but the Skills Organisation and NZSA state that only 712 (4.5%) and 51 employers (2.7% of the sector) were involved in training.

“It’s abysmal” and of “signi cant concern” that 95% of the workforce who complete mandatory training do not progress their skills or qualifications, says Morrison. He believes career paths and monetary or promotional prospects for those with qualifications need to be better defined.


Cleaners better off

The E tu workers union, which represents employees in the sector, equates security workers as being less organised, protected and paid than the cleaning industry.

“The industry isn’t doing enough for its workers and doesn’t seem to be able to get their act together through their association,” says Jill Ovens, E tu’s industry co-ordinator for public and commercial services.

Efforts to create multi-employer labour agreements have failed, with security companies claiming their industry is too competitive. “They continue to undercut each other on labour as the major cost in their contracting model.”

In contrast, E tu has been able to negotiate multi-employer collective agreements with contract cleaners and building services contractors and their respective associations and employers, so workers now get a differential above the minimum wage andrecognition for certain qualifications.

“When you go to tender all members compete under the same labour costs... so companies have to compete on other propositions to sell their services,” says Ovens.

Cleaners agreed on a base rate above minimum wage while most security guards “who are arguably at much greater personal risk are stuck with the bottom line minimum wage”.

Ovens says the NZSA should lead the way to a collective industry agreement with increased training that doesn’t come out of guards' paypackets. “We would be willing to work with them on this.”


Recognising skills

Ovens says there’s no commitment or incentive for employers to do the training, and the skills are not often recognised by those they contract to. “If clients want professionalism they need to pay for it... the labour cost has been driven down so there’s not much differential between those who have training and those who don’t.”

Fred Stevenson, founder of HSM Group in Hastings, employs up to 60 guards, most of them part-timers, but generally pays up to $2 an hour more than many of his competitors.

“We try to be really efficient at the top end of what we’re doing... some jobs we don’t make any money because we’re competing in a price-driven market and sometimes we just have to walk away.” HSM Group monitors alarms and undertakes health and safety checks for animal welfare, parking wardens and community service people who have personal duress alarms and GPS tracking systems as well as conducting hourly checks on its own guards.

The objective is always to compete on performance, to prove they can do a better job and hopefully win repeat business.


Old boy’s network

First Security’s Michael Moriarty claims that the effects of many years of the “old boys network” have held the industry back. It’s “an incestuous industry”, which has created “a culture of ‘mateship’ that cements the pecking order”, with a select number of powerful individuals having worked for many of the limited number of security companies (in those early days) thus building this influential network.

He talks of patch protection with industry veterans and NZSA founding members often believing they hold “a certain status within their peer group that establishes the order of things and the way things are done”.

Despite his 20-years in the NZ Police and 17-years in security training, Moriarty claims he and other ‘recent’ entrants are still percieved as outsiders. This is an obstacle to change in an industry that
has been used to paying the minimum wage “and treating people like cardboard cut outs – if they muck up we’ll just get another one.”

Recently, however, this approach is being challenged by increased levels of accountability and auditing required by new health and safety, immigration and human resources legislation, forcing security companies to pay more attention to how they treat their staff.

“Clients are also a lot more informed and want evidence of appropriate and realistic training rather than just taking people’s word for it,” says Moriarty.

“I applaud this, the only sad thing is that it is coming from outside sources rather than the industry itself, otherwise we’d still be doing it the 1970s way.” 

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