Last year, officer Jeff Demerath, a custom protection officer with G4S Secure Solutions (USA) Inc., was on his usual patrol at Logan University in Chesterfield, Missouri, when he noticed a vehicle parked with its lights off. When the security guard approached the driver, the man explained that he was a tennis instructor and his teenage female passenger was his student.
Knowing the tennis courts were on the other side of campus, Demerath took down the driver’s information and notified authorities. The police located the vehicle and found the driver had sexually assaulted the girl he was with and had a history of child rape.
Demerath was named one of G4S’ two Security Guards of the Year in 2013 because of his actions. Carmen Murrell Randall, director of field training services, said while many employees come from military or law enforcement backgrounds, “the additional training we’ve given them is what enables them to risk their lives.”
The Florida-based national security services company’s learning and development programs do more than ensure employees are prepared for their jobs, however. Making sure employees have client-based training through its North America Training Institute is a way to improve the image of an industry plagued with image problems.
Cops and firefighters might have a revered place in pop culture, but the security guard is continually mocked, which leads to marginalization of the industry as a whole. “The perception of a security officer is ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop,’” said Monica Garcia, manager of external communications and social media at G4S. “It’s this attitude that it’s a throwaway job.”
Countering the Hollywood-driven stereotype of the inept buffoon in a uniform is a major goal G4S’ learning leaders have for their programs. The company’s employees are guarding banks, screening bags at courthouses, patrolling nuclear power plants and ensuring safety on college campuses.
But it’s not just Hollywood that cultivates skepticism about the profession. Security companies, especially smaller operations, often don’t provide the same amount of training as G4S. To Lew Pincus, the company’s senior director for communications and marketing, all that does is produce guards who fit the stereotype.
Part of the reason smaller operations don’t have more training is because they lack the funds and the obligation to provide the kind of programs G4S has established. Randall said the company’s budget for nationwide training is between $12 million and $15 million. It pays for all instructors, materials and for field training officers. It also allocates money for partnerships with sales training company Dale Carnegie & Associates Inc. and the American Management Association.
But while a company might have the money, it also has to be motivated to provide training; states don’t require much training for a security guard. Pincus said state criterion is so minimal someone could be working at a restaurant one day and be a guard the next as long as he or she passes basic background tests.
For example, in Tennessee the training requirement is a four-hour course covering an hour each of orientation, legal powers and limitations, emergency procedures and general duties. “The big misconception of the industry is that all guards are created equal,” Pincus said.
That’s not the case at G4S, where the three-tiered structure at its corporate university exceeds most state requirements.
A Trinity of Training
To Pincus and the rest of G4S’ leadership, separating their employees from the rest of the industry’s workers starts with recruiting from the right pool of talent, such as veterans and former or aspiring law enforcement officers. More than a quarter of company employees are former military members, Randall included.
When employees start at G4S, they begin in the classroom. Randall said although the number of hours changes depending on what kind of client guards will serve, they go through at least 40 hours of instructor-led training in the classroom to learn the basics, regardless of state requirements. “We are recognized as a corporate university, so we want to make sure we have the same structure that you would find at a university,” he said.
To do that, the learning and development team created curriculum for basic security officer training and manager leadership programs. All instructors have at least associate's degrees and two years of training experience, and the university has a partnership with the American Council on Education, which awards college credit for many of the classes.
Also like a college, curriculum goes beyond teaching procedures and checklists. Students examine case studies of situations they might encounter in the field, and share and listen to real-life experiences and participate in role play.
CPR, automated external defibrillators and first aid application are also part of the lesson plan. For the fourth year in a row, G4S is the largest corporate training center for the American Heart Association. That preparation came in handy for the second Security Guard of the Year in 2013, who applied his knowledge of first aid and CPR to keep a car accident victim alive long enough to get medical attention.
“Oftentimes they’re the first ones on a scene,” Pincus said. “We want to make sure we send them out on the front line as well-prepared as possible.”
After passing a series of tests, employees move on to their client’s location to do on-the-job training and learn processes specific to that client, such as emergency response, fire and life safety, patrolling and access control. They also shadow experienced officers to grasp how everything fits together in real time. The hours spent on this step vary based on the client, but Randall said it can be anywhere from 24 to 40 hours for a health care environment and 80 to 120 hours for a data center.
Even after they’ve passed performance evaluations, G4S employees go through annual refresher training required by both company and client. However, employees don’t have to wait a year to get another dose of learning. G4S’ corporate university has a learning management system that provides more than 1,000 courses on anything employees might feel they need more training on, such as emergency response and customer service. Geoff Gerks, G4S’ senior vice president of human resources, said by the end of May, almost 40,000 modules were completed voluntarily.
“That’s the kind of stuff that makes our industry better, not only through our own men and women, it improves the capability of our industry,” Gerks said.
Not Just Hiring Bodies
G4S’ three-tiered structure corporate university sees returns in three different places: the industry, its own organization, and perhaps most important to learning leaders, the employees themselves.
Many companies use learning and development to advance within their sectors, but at G4S the integrity of the entire security guard industry is at stake. While many of its competitors and smaller companies are just trying to hire bodies, Pincus said the company wants to do a lot more than hire someone to stand at a post. “We’re trying to build a profession within the security industry of being a well-qualified, well-vetted, highly experienced security officer who has a career path moving forward.”
That’s not to say G4S doesn’t reap the well-trained fruits of its labor. Because of the university’s efforts, it sees major dividends in retention. The average annual turnover rate for the security industry can be anywhere between 100 and 200 percent. As of June, G4S’ 2014 turnover rate was 27 percent.
The company’s retention has a lot to do with leadership development and management programs that propel lower-level employees up through the ranks. Gerks said that benefits the organization because it does not have to pay to recruit externally, and it ensures that leaders bring the knowledge and skills from their previous jobs into the new role.
In addition to retaining employees, G4S’ learning efforts also contribute to client retention. “If you provide quality training, and if we provide to our clients security officers who are trained, they are protecting our clients’ property,” Randall said. “It’s not us at corporate or even our leadership at local offices that maintain those client accounts. It’s security officers, those boots on the ground.”
Front-line employees also benefit. Not only are they given more opportunities for career advancement through college-accredited courses, but also they are launched into their positions with honed skills that could save others and themselves.
To Randall, security guards put their lives on the line just as police officers, firefighters and military personnel do, but they don’t receive the same benefits, such as retirement plans, 401(k)s or honors at museums or national monuments.
“We don’t typically think about the services they provide every day, but they are very much in the public eye, very much public servants,” Randall said. “With that, we should make sure they have the same training.”
So You Want to Be a G4S Officer
G4S’ three-step training is built to prepare employees with specialized skills and keep them up-to-date. New custom protection officer hires for a health care facility go through a process that looks like this:
1. Eighty hours of classroom, instructor-led training, with 40 hours spent on custom protection officer training and 40 hours on health care environment training.
2. In 24 to 40 hours of on-the-job training, participants learn the specific components of their assigned client, such as access, patrolling, emergency response and fire safety. They shadow someone at that client location to make sure they understand those processes.
3. Annual training and evaluations keep skills fresh after learners assume their position.