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Wilson James exclusive: Putting people first


Recruitment and retention are the two big issues in the guarding sector of the security industry – Barry Dawson of Wilson James offers some insights

Whether it’s down to a negative perception, or a lack of awareness about what it offers, the fact is too few people are currently looking to join the security services sector.

This is despite professionalising the industry and qualification development, certifications and accreditations making it possible for suitable individuals to develop a successful career.

Vicious circle

According to the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) there is a UK shortfall of over 60,000 security officers.

Wilson James is actively looking to do something about it. Instead of relying on traditional recruitment methods, the company has embarked on a strategy of passive recruitment – identifying and approaching candidates not actively looking for a job but who have skills and experience matching a company’s requirements.

It is a cost-effective alternative to traditional recruitment methods, such as advertising, as companies can focus their efforts on engaging with a targeted group of potential candidates.

By proactively seeking candidates, companies can enhance the talent pool and make it more diverse.

Equal opportunities

When people of different ages, sexual orientations, genders, socio-economic classes, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and physical and mental abilities work together, its leads to greater creativity.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) looked at 1,700 companies across eight countries and found that ‘increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance’.

Employing 3,500 speciality security officers, Wilson James understands why diversity and inclusion is a real force for business improvement.

The company has a diversity and inclusion steering group and designated ‘champions’ in three areas – physical and hidden disability; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues; and mental health. Training tools have been developed for employees to enhance their inclusion awareness and understanding.

Shaping the future

Attracting new talent is one problem but retention is quite another. The industry lacks a visible, inclusive, universal framework to enable it to align good standards of performance with existing courses and qualifications.

It can be hard for people to know what opportunities exist and is one of many key contributing factors to losing security professionals to other industries.

This is being addressed by the Security Skills Board, which was launched in 2022 by the SIA and the City Security Council (CSC) to address the need for higher standards of professionalism.

As well as being chief operating officer at Wilson James, Gemma Quirke is also vice chair of the Security Skills Board.

She aims to develop a private security profession map to outline the capabilities required for current and future roles and define a career pathway to career development and progression.

Learning curve

In security, employee development schemes have been few and far between.

Employee engagement has always been one of Wilson James’ core values.

Empowering people and giving opportunities to reach their full potential stimulates an interest in the company’s activities, drives creativity and innovation and provides leadership.

The Wilson James Leadership Academy is an innovative learning and development programme that aims to help aspirational employees reach their full potential.

Completed over six months, it encapsulates key leadership qualities through theoretical and practical application. It’s not intended to be prescriptive or formalised regarding what great leadership looks like, but rather an inclusive programme that focuses on a learner’s unique attributes, allowing them to develop in their own way.

Mind over matter

However, it is not all about offering development opportunities. Poor employee mental health has severe repercussions for employers in terms of staff turnover, decreased productivity and sickness absence.

We take workplace mental health seriously and have configured a comprehensive employee support programme.

Developed in partnership with Mind and The Wellbeing Project, the Listening EARs initiative allows someone who is feeling anxious, worried and alone to text a dedicated number.

A volunteer calls them back to listen, understand, support, and signpost them. Complementing Listening EARs, Wilson James has put a group of its people through the official Mental Health First Aid course.

This team has been trained to identify, understand, and help someone experiencing a mental health issue.

Recruitment drive

According to Mintel, between 2021-26 the UK physical security market’s value could rise 19%, reaching £4.9bn.

The security sector’s growing and will need highly trained and skilled people to deploy the right solutions for evolving risks, assess threat vulnerabilities and protect people, property and assets.

This means attracting and nurturing a wide variety of talent and offering a truly worthwhile career path.