Personnel selection releases the potential of your system

June 2008 Surveillance

The development of advanced technology security systems such as CCTV and more sophisticated X-ray machines have substantially increased career options for security personnel.

This has been combined with positions that have a higher public recognition and generally increased income. Career options have not only increased through more options, but include supervisory and management functions for these relatively new security functions.

However, technology intensive operations call for very different management and staffing than traditional physical security, which has typically been dominated by low costs, a low skills base, and low recognition despite the importance of this kind of work.

One of the most common concerns I hear from managers and clients is that contracting companies are providing bodies rather than 'thinking personnel' who are positioned to use the technology. When asked why, one manager's comment was 'I take what they give me'. I have had similar experiences with in-company personnel where companies want to spend little or almost nothing on security costs including selection - a comment from a newly qualified HR officer of a R1,6 billion a year warehousing operation was "These people are low level, we do not need to spend money on them". She probably just cost her company an extra percent or two loss on annual turnover.

Effective operators

I have noted on a number of occasions that the technology is only as effective as the operators who are using this. Our research indicates that applicants who get in the top half of competency tests like SAMAE, for example, detect twice as many CCTV incidents on the job. This calls into question how personnel are selected and trained to operate the equipment, and whether they are suited to view the monitors on these systems that can cost millions.

Having inappropriate personnel can ruin the effectiveness of potentially very effective and expensive systems, to the distress of the client, but also the equipment suppliers and installers who often get put in the line of fire because of the lack of delivery.

Selection is an area that is often underestimated and typically needs a great deal more attention in many operations. Organisations which plan and implement a comprehensive selection strategy end up with vastly superior operations. This is slightly more costly initially, but quickly provides returns in success in training, shorter times to attain full performance, success in detection, retention of personnel, and getting the confidence of executive management.

Interestingly, I often see the success of security reflected in the confidence of management based on a high belief in the personnel working for them due to sound selection. This also seems to have an impact on how management of other companies sees them, with the most admired companies all having made extra efforts to get the right kind of people to deliver quality performance.

A security manager recently told me how he would see people waiting for jobs for days outside a local security contractor's office. They would suddenly materialise as 'highly skilled and experienced CCTV personnel' within his own operation a couple of weeks later.

Stringent selection takes effort and time. In one company in a high-value commodity industry, personnel are screened for background and experience, qualifications and registration, criminal records, are polygraphed, and then go through competency testing and in some cases psychometric testing before a final interview.

In many cases, the assessments provide not only an indication of immediate job prospects, but also career options and how the candidate will handle involvement in an operations-intensive environment for security personnel.

Not everybody is suited for a position and there should be a ratio of applicants to any job. For instance, in the selection of aviation screeners in the UK, it has been found that 35% of applicants fall short of requirements for the position. If every applicant gets the job, then it usually says something about the criteria being used to accept someone. In Holland, the severe shortage of people on the job market due to virtually no unemployment means that at times security organisations tend to take people they would otherwise not usually accept. However, in countries such as South Africa, far larger sources of personnel exist, although skill and qualification levels may still be a problem. In my experience, I come across some exceptional groups of people where companies have spent time and effort in recruiting these, and a number of other high calibre people during selection processes and training.

This shows that if companies are prepared to make the effort, there are people available who are high performers, and the potential supervisors and managers for the future. Companies who insist on getting the best applicants will not just have a better reputation, they will benefit from improvements in bottom line results over the short and long term.

Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware, which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 (0)11 787 7811 or [email protected]


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