Future Skills: The Evolution of the Security Operative

Tony Security 6 Comments

Last week I put some posts out on social media looking for some feedback and thoughts from the industry to go with my own ideas on this subject. What will this industry and the role of the security operative look like in 5, 10 or 20 years time and what new  or additional skills will be required to be successful. I got some great feedback (thank you to those who commented) on the subject and the article was taking a certain shape until Tuesday. Normally I put these articles out on a Wednesday and that was the plan here until I was sent a link to a Irish security related website. The top line in this website grabbed my attention straight away. It said there are 25,000 people working in the security industry in Ireland and that figure can be expected to double in the next 5 years. I started thinking about this in the context of this article and thought to myself:

1) I don’t know where they got those numbers from but I don’t agree

2) Thinking about the way the industry is going the number will most likely fall not rise.

3) That’s not necessarily a bad thing.


Numbers 1 and 2 may be open to interpretation but your probably all looking at number 3 and getting worried. Worried about employment prospects or growth opportunities  if the industry gets smaller. There’s probably a lot of you out there who know me also thinking that I’ve gone nuts. I make a certain part of my living based on training new entrants to the security industry so why would I be happy about the numbers falling over time? In this article I would like to discuss why that’s the case and share with you some of the future skills which I believe will be essential in the coming years.

A new generation

It is my firm belief that there will be significantly fewer people in the industry in the coming years but that those people who do remain will be at a much higher level of talent, skill and knowledge. We are seeing the evolution of the security industry before our eyes. The convergence of the physical and technological sectors is developing and the integration of technologies will inevitably replace some human functions. That will lead to fewer numbers of people being required but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I say that because those that will be required will be highly trained, highly motivated individuals who can operate in an advanced security function. High levels of talent, training and motivation along with the cost reduction in manpower also yields higher levels of rewards for those who remain. We are already seeing the genesis of this in the cyber security area where the current skills gap is leading to headhunting and a price war to hire the most talented people. When the sector moves further towards convergence this will include those with the foresight to have upskilled in both the physical and cyber worlds. If we think of how far we have come in the last 10 years how could we be so naive to think that the industry will be same 10 years into the future. 10 years ago we had no licensing or regulation, “bouncers were hired based on size and ability to fight” and I remember walking into work in a control filled from desk to ceiling with VCR recorders and multiplexer devices. Many people reading this who have entered the industry recently will have no idea or recollection of these and I’m glad of that. In 10 years time the next generation will be the same.

What skills will be required?

The feedback on this was interesting and ranged from risk awareness, language skills, IT skills and cyber skills. There will also be a large demand for merged specialist security roles.  All of these I agree with and will discuss here.

Risk Awareness/management

One of the focus areas at entry-level over the coming years will be on risk management. Currently at new entrant level a lot of the emphasis is on teaching responses to specific incident types. If there’s a fire do this, if there’s a disruptive person do that. I think in the future we will move to teaching more overarching risk management principles rather than specific responses. Teaching people to identify and recognise vulnerabilities, risk mitigation and risk control measures will become the norm. Technology will become the primary prevention and detection level responses and the security operative will the person taking control and managing breaches once technology is bypassed. The ability to manage an incident to its conclusion will become a skill set in itself.

IT Skills

This can’t be stressed enough. Anybody who can’t use a computer proficiently will be left behind in the industry. If you can’t use one right now it’s time to invest in a class. Word processing, data entry, reporting and trouble shooting of computer systems are already commonplace requirements and they will only grow. Technology will become more mobile and we will be wearing and using technology as an asset in the most straightforward of work locations. Computers are the future and a paperless industry is on its way. Get used to it or get left behind.

Language skills

There’s a really interesting graphic out there which show a small geographic area of Dublin City centre and within it is the EMEA headquarters for some of the largest corporate companies in the world. Within those buildings are the SOC teams covering that region. They deal with multiple countries and multiple languages on a daily basis. If we come away from the multinationals and look at society as a whole. We are becoming a more geographically, ethnically and culturally diverse society. Within that there will be people who we come into contact with in a security capacity  who require assistance, support or are behaving criminally. Is a second language essential? No,but it will become an asset as the industry evolves.

Merged services

More clients are looking for efficiency from security providers and more providers are beginning to look at options for offering merged services to clients in specific sectors. In healthcare we seeing the growth of a whole new role of healthcare security operative who provides security duties for individual patients but is also qualified in patient support and infection control. This frees up nurses to nurse and provides the level of care and security the patient needs. It also adds a value to the security provider which cannot be replaced without significant   investment in training from a competitor. Similarly in hotels and corporate offices  we are seeing the growth of the security/reception officer providing a merged role. Some take exception to this as being outside the job description but the reality is that it’s here to stay and is going to grow.

Media Skills

When I talk about the media I’m not talking about the traditional view of reporters and cameramen for the media outlets who would shortly arrive after any serious incident. Nowadays every one of us is the media. With the power of the smart phone social media has become the new newspaper and YouTube the new television. We have to assume that every interaction we are involved with at every point during your working life is being recorded and will end on the internet. This requires a whole new level of social awareness which has never been needed before. Dealing with issues while on camera or even dealing with traditional media is an area that will become even more critical as businesses continue to realise that their reputation and brand is their biggest asset.

The security guard

Will the name security guard/officer still exist? The traditionalist will say of course it will. I’m not so sure. The historical role of the night-watchman became the patrolman and both of them are no longer in existence. The floorwalker became the store detective which is evolving to loss prevention, profit protection and asset protection. The bouncer became the door supervisor and now is evolving towards the door host, door ambassador or venue safety. The most treasured name of them all ‘the security guard’ became the security officer and now the security operative. Who’s to say what we will evolve towards next.

Looking back over this article the evolution of the security industry in a short space of time has been amazing. Where we go in the future will be dictated by clients needs, technology and the changing risk profile of society in general. I stand by my claim that there will be fewer people working in the security industry but I also stand by my suggestion that this may not be such a bad thing. Those of us willing to adapt, evolve and grow will for the spearhead of the new generation and that can only mean exciting times ahead.




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