A downside of our thriving economic times is a shortage of skilled personnel to work in the physical security marketplace. Strong economic growth translates into a low unemployment rate, and greater competition among employers to attract the best talent.

The field of cybersecurity, in particular, is seeing a serious talent shortage, but any physical security company can also attest to our own challenges finding and keeping the best talent; not to mention the obvious - that cybersecurity is now a fundamental element in physical security.

Fewer young people entering mechanical fields

Many security system integration firms are small businesses, which in general are struggling to find and retain qualified employees. According to a survey by U.S. Bank, some 61 percent of small business owners say they are experiencing extreme or moderate difficulty finding good employees to expand their business. The problem is especially severe in rural areas, although even urban areas are feeling the pain.

One factor impacting the problem is that fewer young people entering the workforce are going into mechanical fields such as security. Seeking to attract those that do, security employers are competing with large companies such as automotive manufacturers for the available talent. In addition, in our era of video gaming, more young people are electing to go into software-based fields. As one security integrator commented recently, many young people entering the labour market are hoping they can get rich by inventing the next big app. Driving a truck to install and maintain security systems doesn’t seem as exciting.

Employee retention struggle

Attracting employees is just the start of the problem. Employee retention is an even bigger struggle in a competitive job market, where an up-and-coming star employee might be lured away by a modest pay increase. A successful staffing approach must therefore attract the best talent, train them effectively, and keep them engaged and motivated.

Younger employees – so-called Millennials – offer particular challenges to employers, even beyond their purported tendency to feel entitled and to be glued to an iPhone. For one thing, millennials may be more likely to change jobs. The days of an employee staying with one company for a decade or longer are gone; resumes with two-year stints at a variety of employers are now the norm.

How to adapt to Millennials

Millennials also tend to value greater engagement, meaning and purpose in their jobs. They want to learn and develop, and they want their jobs to fit their lifestyles. Millennials need more “care and feeding” than the baby boomer generation, who were historically willing to work hard, keep their head down, and stick with a job through thick and thin. To retain employees, security industry companies will need to adapt.

Younger employees, or Millennials, offer particular challenges to employers
Millennials need to be encouraged, given clear goals and plenty of feedback, and to work in a more “collaborative” environment

Millennials need to be encouraged, given clear goals and plenty of feedback, and to work in a more “collaborative” environment. Collaboration in the field of security might include working alongside more experienced – i.e., “old school” – technicians. Ensuring a climate in which disparate employees can work together productively is critical to success, and to employee retention.

Managers must adapt to the needs of each group, whether it’s communicating by text message or face-to-face. Older employees bring more experience to the table; they have “seen it all,” and are well equipped to respond to a variety of challenges. Millennials or younger employees may be more IT-savvy (having grown up with computers). Bringing these groups together to create a “team,” leveraging the best of what each team member brings to the table, is key.

Why work in the security industry?

There is good news: The security industry is a great place to work for anyone looking for a career with purpose. The role security people and technologies play to make the world a safer place adds a compelling underlying purpose to everything we do. Employers should work to get employees – new and older – to embrace that concept. What we do is important.

Even in a competitive labour environment, our field offers rich rewards, endless challenges and a keen sense of purpose. Communicating these elements to prospective employees will help us attract the best talent, and retain it as a critical element in the work we do.

Technology often seems to be the primary focus of the physical security industry, but people matter too. Addressing personnel challenges is just as much a part of our industry’s success as technology - maybe even more so - and shouldn’t be overlooked.