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Opinion News
February 08,2016

Professionalising the security industry

Imran Masood

In a society where sensitivity counts more than authenticity, it is predictable that security providers call themselves ‘professionals’ before the actual professionalisation of their occupation. Is the ‘security industry’ in reality a business that is expanding its sphere of influence? In the 1970s and 1980s there was a rise in medical, engineering and technology professionals. What do societies demand for their own safety today?

The phenomenal growth of massive private shopping malls and the steady shrinkage of public shopping markets mean that the public is more likely to encounter private security than public police on a daily basis. It is ironic that despite knowing the threat, the business community gives least priority to security and pays very little for security in malls, stores, offices, banks, private schools, private hospitals and highly congested public places such as cinemas and public parks.

The business and service of the corporate security industry in Pakistan has certain exclusive, although limited, characteristics. These traits contribute directly to the current warning signs, regarded as negative in the sense of their professional status in society. So essential is security that without it no nation can ever imagine steady development.

Without the continuance of security, future progress could be jeopardised because of the uncertainty of danger or loss. In short, private security suffers from an image problem. The image of a short-tempered lethargic man with a shotgun in a dark blue uniform is one that twists easily to mind. This man is perceived to be ex-military and with no awareness of corporate security culture.

The emergence of terrorism has shown the tendency of terrorists to attack civilian targets and schools; and led to the realisation that damage to economic infrastructure can potentially be just as devastating as damage to physical infrastructure. In the same way, security is not a human need, it is a human right. In Pakistan, the threat to security has been heightened further by the rise in direct actions on ‘soft targets’ like schools and health workers. Consequently, now there is a dire need to focus on public safety and consider corporate security as a profession.

Security management by definition can mean many things and does not have clear boundaries. Also, it is not clear what qualifications are needed, if any, to be considered to be a security manager. There is a plethora of security companies in Pakistan, yet not a single company can be said to have set an example of true professionalism. There is also a question over whether one can be considered a professional through experience, especially in the case of those from military and law-enforcement backgrounds – who are without a relevant academic qualification.

There is considerable confusion over the terms ‘professional security management’ and ‘professionalisation of the security industry’. For some, these are largely expressive terms while for others these words are merely for marketing purposes. There is an important need to establish where security management stands in relation to other recognised professions.

Is security management indeed a profession or is it a profession in the making or are the claims by some practitioners to be ‘professionals’ totally misleading? The professional status of security managers can in the first instance be assessed through a comparison of its characteristics in terms of compensation with those of other recognised professions such as legal and medical services.

It is generally opined that security managers seriously lag behind on all fronts. Those employed in the private sector tend to be mature, retired people from military or police background who are unlikely to have had advanced education at the university level.

In the absence of certified and recognised academic qualifications, it seems the tendency for the corporate security industry is to give preference to persons from the police or military to establish a form of occupational control and credibility.

The perception in the security industry is that people from these backgrounds have a natural advantage over people from non-law enforcement services – albeit people from these backgrounds and skill sets can both hinder and help business processes. Staff members with law-enforcement backgrounds will undoubtedly have a clear understanding of chain-of-evidence and other legal procedures, yet their experience could also be counterproductive in the organisation due their lack of managerial and commercial acumen.

By no means is security a new concept, but never has it played the role it has to today. So the time for professionalisation of security has arrived. Yet the security industry is without any clear plan for this process. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for policymakers to step in and create benchmarks for the industry and this occupation.

It is not uncommon in an immature occupation such as the security industry to have numerous representatives from the military and other law-enforcement agencies. The autonomy of skill must not be confused. If one as an individual is skilful, and if the quality of the work he does is above average he could be an ‘expert’, but he may not be a professional. So, judging one’s own skills and calling oneself a professional is wrong.

Social discipline demands qualification and experience for a professional. Maybe this is the crucial reason why nobody can settle the issue – because of the security industry’s total reliance on experience and not qualification. Qualification and experience mutually lead to professionalism. The use of the words ‘professional’ and ‘profession’ in the security industry context is without any legitimate foundation. It has been found as a form of gentle persuasion in marketing. This is indeed misleading.

This seems to happen a lot in the security industry, littered with so-called professionals and experts, who are exploiting this social relationship between practitioner and client. There is an old African proverb: ‘Until lions tell their own tale, the stories of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’. Similarly, until such a time that society accepts and approves of security management as a profession, these companies will be under the illusion that they are professionals.

The use of the words ‘professional’ and ‘profession’ in the private security industry of Pakistan is without any lawful foundation.

Keeping all this in mind, it is recommended that the practice of security companies is redesigned to accommodate present business needs. It is also recommended that the country’s legislators step in and regulate the private security industry of Pakistan.

It is further recommended that the private security industry of Pakistan comes together in one representative body which acts as an umbrella organisation to accommodate security diversity and to create unity in a professionalisation programme. Last but not least, it is absolutely essential that security management be included as a major subject/degree in the business management universities of Pakistan.

The writer is a professionalsecurity practitioner and amember of Security Institute, UK.

Email: imranmasood16live.com


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