Facility Security, Policies and Training

How COVID-19 Impacted the Physical Security Job Market

While employee turnover has always been a concern in the world of physical security, COVID-19 made the problem even worse. The pandemic has forced companies to modify their hiring and retention practices for security professionals.

Both in 2019, before the pandemic, and in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, surveys conducted by Thinkcurity showed that about 70% of respondents believed turnover was a top challenge.

security guard

“I don’t think it will ever not be a challenge,” said Tim Lozier, Director of Product Strategy for Trackforce Valiant.

Lozier joined Jeff DiDomenico, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Trackforce Valiant, at a recent Total Security Now webinar entitled “Benchmarking Turnover in Security: How Security Companies Are Hiring and Retaining Talent.”

Average Turnover Rates and Company Size

An employee turnover study of 300 security guard divisions, ranging in size from 5 to over 15,000 workers, looked at 100,000 security professionals across the United States comparing 2018 to 2019 and 2019 to 2020. The average turnover rate between 2018 and 2019 was +6%. “This means that in our group there was actually more hiring being done,” Lozier said.

The hiring “represents a large cost factor in what drives your overall expense for managing your security officers,” said DiDomenico.

From 2019 to 2020, the average turnover rate was -12% chiefly because of COVID and the shutdown of industries that security thrived in. In a benchmark report in July 2020, 34% of security professionals said they saw turnover as a direct effect of COVID-19.

The study showed that security companies seeing the most turnover between 2019 and 2020 were ones that had between 5 and 100 employees, primarily in niche industries, since they had less financial flexibility. Some analysts believe that many of these smaller companies did not apply for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans because the companies were unclear about how much of their loans would be forgiven, how it would affect their taxes, or other specifics of the program.

More of the companies in the middle group, between 101 and 500 employees, understood and benefited from the PPP, had more financial flexibility, and took on special assignments.

Special assignments included temporary part-time positions to assist with COVID-19-related vaccination sites or testing centers, often at facilities like vacant spaces at shopping centers, large event venues, and conference centers. Special assignments also included health ambassadors and health screeners, such as those taking temperatures of visitors and possibly verifying that visitors had vaccination records or negative COVID test results.

The highest group, 501 employees and more, also benefited from PPP and financial flexibility. They were also more greatly affected by special assignments.

Companies of medium and large size had the financial flexibility to reallocate funds for security professional salary and compensation costs.

Hiring and Retention Practices 

While some think hiring and retaining employees is simply a human resources (HR) function, it really should be everyone’s concern. In the security industry, professionals should work to attract and retain the best and brightest to help protect company assets, customers, and colleagues.

Security professionals should consider the following strategies to help recruit for their workforce:

Social Media, Online Job Boards, and Recruiters

Websites like ZipRecruiter and Indeed, as well as social media, have helped simplify the hiring process and made it faster and less costly. Social media and online job boards have mostly replaced the need to place expensive newspaper classified ads.

While some security professionals will want to do their own hiring, others might want to consider hiring a recruiting agency. In either case, it is important to work with HR to determine soft and hard skills such as experience and certifications.

Examples of physical security certifications are Physical Security Certification (PSC), Certified Criminal Justice Specialist (CCJS), and Certified in Homeland Security (CHS).

Virtual Interviewing, Onboarding, and Communication

The security industry, like other industries, is embracing permanent changes in the hiring process brought on due to social distancing protocols during COVID-19.

  • Applicant tracking: Asks the right questions to candidates to determine who would be the best fit.
  • Video screening: Allows applicants to take a video of themselves saying why they want the job.
  • Remote interviewing: Allows applicants to conduct video interviews based on their availability.

This switch to digital communication also can save employers on overhead and travel costs since HR staff, many whom are working from home, would not need to go to the office to interview, onboard, or speak with new employees.

The remote onboarding process involves online paperwork, which can be uploaded virtually and added to HR files. This saves on costs of ink, paper, and wear and tear on printers and copiers. Furthermore, deskless workers can receive important internal information effectively using mobile communication so that they can be engaged and informed.

Tech Investments

Some companies, including those in the physical security industry, may have been hesitant to embrace technology, but labor shortages caused by the pandemic, increased general acceptance of technology, and lowered prices on technology have pushed many companies to make 21st-century investments.

DiDomenico said that robotics and remote monitoring have been embraced in the security profession. He explained that a large supermarket chain previously had robots in 37 of its stores but recently increased that to 700. Even the purpose of the robots changed from helping with point-of-sale and slip-and-fall situations to notifying people and security management regarding safe social distances. While using robots for the latter purpose will not be helpful in a post-pandemic world, security professionals can still utilize this technology to help provide another set of virtual eyes for theft-prevention purposes.

Future of Security Hiring

It’s likely that security professionals will see additional special assignments if we have another strain of COVID, or another pandemic, that could result in many people getting tested simultaneously or another mass vaccination wave.

While the physical security industry has adapted itself temporarily to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 through PPP and special assignments, more permanent solutions include utilizing social media and online job boards, as well as virtual interviewing, onboarding, and communication. It is likely the industry will continue to face turnover, but that could be alleviated through technological advances.