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Securing our future – and those of our apprentices

July 28, 2021 by David Walton

Despite offering a wide range of job opportunities, attracting people into the security sector remains a problem. However, there are some excellent initiatives that, with industry-wide support, could make a difference.

While other industries are struggling to survive, let alone grow, demand for security services continues at a pace. Given this relatively healthy state of affairs, the fact that the industry has a skills shortage is, on the face of it, baffling. However, scratch the surface and the reasons for the current situation become apparent.

Time for action

The hard truth is that when a young person is choosing a career, the security industry isn’t usually on their list, which makes attracting the next generation of integrators, installers, engineers and technicians an uphill struggle. This was highlighted in research carried out for the Security Institute in 2020, which concluded that 73 per cent of respondents did not know much about the security sector or how to join it.

This is an industry that has a vast amount of diverse roles and ever changing technologies. We should appeal to anyone with an interest in engineering, IT, technology, construction, project management, customer service, contract management, as well as the back-office functions found across most industries. We work across numerous sectors, in locations around the world and with many high profile and prestigious clients. And yet, we as an industry continue to struggle to find new talent.

Awareness is vital and this is particularly important in addressing the extremely low level of female entrants. Failing to attract 50 per cent of the UK workforce makes absolutely no sense from both ethical and commercial points of view, and there is plenty of research that highlights how diversity is crucial for innovation and growth.

Age concern

Bringing new blood into the security industry is vital, as the age of those working in it is increasing. If we look at the broader construction sector, according to the 2011 census the largest proportion of workers were aged 40-44 years (13.4 per cent), followed by 45-49 years (13.3 per cent). Conversely, the youngest workers, aged 16-19 formed just 2.7 per cent of the total workforce.

Nothing much has changed and with the average age of a security engineer likely to closely mirror this, the skills shortage will only get worse unless we start to do something other than talk about it. The industry needs to come together to attract and develop talent, while offering clearly defined career paths.

Talent scout

The good news is that we are helping to tackle this issue. Reliance High-Tech are a founding strategic partner of Zitko Talent – a coalition of employers, manufacturers, accredited tech trainers and professional bodies. Those involved are committed to providing an intensive 12-month programme of paid frontline work, with around 300 hours of product training and study for a Level 3 qualification.

Zitko Talent is designed to appeal to a wide demographic – from college leavers and career changers to engineers wishing to transition from other sectors. All applicants go through a detailed evaluation process, including aptitude testing, to create a high quality talent pool that could produce future industry leaders.

Earn and learn

Working alongside Zitko Talent complements Reliance High-Tech’s successful apprenticeship programme. Apprenticeships are a great way to attract and develop talent, and it is my firm belief that they make organisations more effective, productive and competitive. In addition to the four people that we have taken on through Zitko Talent, we also have three fantastic young apprentices who have a keen interest in electronics, security and IT technology.

Mentored by a Reliance High-Tech senior service engineer, they are working towards a Level 3 Diploma in Electronic Security and Emergency Systems through a defined learning plan that outlines their objectives and achievements. Our commitment to the apprenticeship model rests, in part, on the experience we have had with our previous apprentices, who have contributed significantly to our success by giving us the skills we need.

Look to the future

Positive steps are being made and security services providers of all sizes should consider the real and long-term value of apprenticeships and support initiatives such as Zitko Talent. They are a great way to combat the skills shortage, fill knowledge gaps, increase productivity, and develop the loyal and competent workforces that companies need to survive and be competitive. What’s not to like?