K9 Protection Ltd - Security Professionals

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For a company who provides a large amount of manpower, one of the hardest things to do is not only recruit people, but recruit the “right” people. At K9 Protection Ltd, we’ve always made a point of employing guards who are fit to the role, and guards who have the right level of communication skills for the client’s requirements – and we’ve always been reasonably good at keeping them.

K9 Protection Ltd pride ourselves on the right staff wanting to stay with us, and now, through our accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation, we’ve removed a further hurdle. Since the very beginning, we’ve always tried to pay over and above the market rate for security (often minimum wage, and occasionally even apprentice rates); we were one of the first companies in Wales to shun the shady practice of recruiting “self employed with UTR” as a way to circumvent our responsibilities for holiday pay and national insurance contributions, and we are the only company we know of to transparently provide quotations showing our clients where every penny of their well-spent money goes.

The Living Wage is an hourly rate set independently and updated annually. The real Living Wage is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. Employers choose to pay this wage on a voluntary basis. The real Living Wage enjoys cross-party support. The UK Living Wage for outside of London is currently £8.45 per hour. The London Living Wage is currently £9.75 per hour. This figure covers all boroughs in Greater London. These figures are calculated annually by the Resolution Foundation and overseen by the Living Wage Commission, based on the best available evidence on living standards in London and the UK.

Why have K9 Protection Ltd taken the decision to become a Living Wage accredited employer now is a question we’ve been asked. The truth of the matter is, this was a company goal which was set three years ago; something the management team saw as important and necessary for our staff. It’s a contract: between us and our staff so they always know the minimum rate they will be paid, knowing that on a 48 hour week they will be taking home over £45 more than their counterpart with a company who do not adhere to a minimum wage. Combine this with an employer pension scheme, managers who actually “do the job” and have worked the assignment instructions they’ve written (K9’s managers are contracted to spend 1/8th of their time guarding), and lone worker safety systems that really work – we think it’s not a bad place to work.

A number of clients have initially raised concerns about raising prices – that’s understandable, especially at a time of uncertainty and squeezed margins, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend we haven’t lost clients along the journey as we prepared for our Living Wage accreditation, but for every client lost, we’ve had very supportive comments as to what we’re trying to achieve back from clients that have remained with us. The fact is, when clients repeatedly tell us they like having familiar faces and reliable guards, we need to retain these staff in order to satisfy client needs, Living Wage Accreditation allows us to do that. K9 Protection Ltd have never provided the cheapest guard to place a bum on a seat, and we’ve never gone out to simply tick a box for insurance companies in providing a body, and the fact that at time of writing there have been no thefts on our watch for 51,972 hours is testament to our staff. Not all security companies are the same, and whilst we fully understand that there’s a market for cheap and cheerful, we choose not to sit in it.

For enquiries about K9 Protection Ltd, contact Paul Green 01633 504543
For enquires about Living Wage Foundation, contact 020 7043 9882

 

Sisco The Dog

 

I thought long and hard about this blog post; and the overriding logic behind it was how many customers over the years show a genuine interest in our canine team and ask after them when we meet with them. It's not written in the usual style, but I feel that as a member of the team from day one, it's deserved - and it'll hopefully help me, Sisco's mum, and his human brothers to come to terms with his passing.

This week, we said goodbye to one of our first "employees", Sisco.

We set K9 Protection Ltd up what now seems like way back in 2011 - it was a family affair, and a key part of that family was Sisco the dog. The original business model was to fill a void that existed in the security industry, which often need a different approach to security dogs, but that obviously grew out to where we are today. If I'm honest, I didn't expect the company to grow past a handful of dog handlers offering seasonal services, and if you told me back then we'd be employing 22 people and turning work away because we're too busy, I'd not have believed you.

I first met Sisco as a 6 week old puppy on a farm in the middle of South Wales. He was a pedigree rottweiler with champions galore in his papers; his dad guarded a scrap yard, and his mum stayed home to look after the pups - And we instantly fell in love. My partner at the time was cautious.. A rottweiler in the house? Two young children in the house? What about all the bad press.. what about their viscous tendencies? But this soon subsided when this 6 kilo bundle of black and mahogany started using her leg as a climbing frame, instantly winning him a ticket home.

As a puppy, Sisco was the typical mischief you'd expect from any pup.. only with the weight to back it up. He was only a year younger than the youngest child, so the mischief would generally start and finish with this pair, whether it be chewing the house, crawling under the table and getting stuck, or just generally doing things that *should* make you mad.. but didn't, and this continued for much of their lives.

As Sisco grew up in to the slender bodied, fat-headed beaut that he became, I started running a pub where he rapidly became a character in the pub, often sitting on the roof and singing along to firework displays and passing ambulances. There were a number of panicked calls from people passing by saying "do you know you've got a dog on your roof", and fairly regular attempts to explain to the RSPCA that he would let himself out, and that was "his spot", but all ended with a generally lighthearted conversation. As he got older, it was obvious that Sisco's instincts were in tune with what you'd read about any rottweiler, he was a watcher who would regularly sit back and watch the world go by, but also pick up on small behaviours that would go un-noticed to the majority of people. This is the point I thought it may be worthwhile working with him, and investigated getting him in to training so this is what we did. I was dubious initially - would he fail as a working dog? Would his personality deteriorate? Would it make him aggressive? Fortunately, the answer was No. We trekked up to Hitchin and trained with Shaun Leatham; a trainer that took all of what was good about Sisco and developed this with me, which over time gave me a partnership which was based on 100% loyalty and trust, and gave me the dog I wanted to work with; I can categorically say that I will never find another dog that works the way I do and things the way I do. Since this time, we've worked together in a number of places, whether it be on building sites, industrial estates, or where Sisco came in to his own was the festival field - How many people reading this can categorically say their dog has saved lives? How many people reading this have had their own life saved by their dogs on a regular basis; sometimes through simply being at my side, other times from noticing someone sneaking up on my blind side, and reasonably regularly from simply using his nose to tell me someone's two fields away moving in my direction? To have an animal do this for you is truly an honour.

 

A few anecdotes:

At one festival when Sisco had not long started out - I think it was his second year in service, we were called to respond to a possible intruder rustling through the bushes by a concerned trader. Within about a minute, Sisco had tracked me to a small barb-wire fence with a gentleman from the Irish travelling community one leg over about to enter our inner perimeter. I announced myself and warned to the presence of a dog, and at this point I started to question the gent on what he's up to - turns out he's going for a walk. After about a minute of my questions on where/why he's walking on our side of the fence, and after the response team had turned up, the classic line which I still remember "Would ya call the dog back a little bit, because my balls are a bit painful with the questions" - turns out that with Sisco's mere presence, this gent had not wanted to move, despite having a barb penetrating through his trousers, and thus teaching a valuable lesson!

Some years at festivals, the drug cocktails are worse than others. This one particular year the little cherubs had taken to mixing Ketamine and liquid acid, which was creating some interesting hallucinations - Throughout that weekend, we'd been called everything from Taliban to the devil's horsemen. With Sisco being a level headed dog, I was happy to do something I wouldn't often take the risk with, and that was use him in the public access areas of an event: On this one occasion, we were called to provide over-watch to a situation which had developed with an assault suspect who rapidly became the patient, and was taking his drug cocktail out on paramedics and welfare. We'd just moved the situation backstage as the headline band were coming off in to their tour bus. With what could be quite a major situation, the presence of a calm and quiet dog could be all it took to pacify a crowd from the normal "security are duffing him up" cries, not only from the public, but from traders and artists too. On this particular occasion, we had the situation under control when suddenly the keyboard player had seen something going on, and rushed over to the scene... And started fussing Sisco, and telling me how he loved rotties and how handsome he was! Dude! Not the time! How many security dogs, no matter their training would have wagged their tail a bit, given a lick, and stepped so the chap was no longer blocking his view, whilst a couple of my colleagues explained to the musician how daft his move was!

A dog that I could truly use at festivals as a diverse general purpose dog, that never needed to make a bite, had fun in what he did, and would go from manning a fence line, to two minutes later sitting between my legs showing disgusted parents a trick that our youngest had trained him in sharing ice creams with children!

There's plenty more, but I'm sure those of you that work with us on a regular basis will be bored of hearing them already.

Sisco retired last year.. not that he wanted to, but I felt that with me being on the ground less, it was the fairer thing to do; so the trip to the vets this week for a routine sprain (as a big dog of nearly 9 years old, he used to bash his legs and tail trying to get up to mischief), to hear the news that my best friend, my working partner of 6 years, and the king of my house had cancer in his front leg which was about to split the bone wasn't something I was prepared for - Money at this point became no object - if it would have helped I'd have sold personal possessions to pay for his treatment.. he'd earned money for me, for the company, and it's only fair that he had it spent on his health, but then the kicker - even with amputation, aggressive chemotherapy, and learning to walk at 38kg with only one front leg, I'd only be buying him a couple of months. For me, it would have been easy to say yes, but in my heart I knew it would have been for my own selfish inability to live without him, and would have given him no quality of life he'd have been happy with.

As I write this, I'm three days in to life without Sisco in it, I've two bitches who are kinda looking every time they hear the door go, and it hurts. It's bad enough losing a pet, but when that pet has literally been your team mate, your partner in crime (prevention), and your conscience, it breaks you. I follow a number of Police dog units on various social media, and as I write this there have been three Police dog handlers who have gone home from their shift without their partners and several across the world who are touch & go; some through old age related illness like Sisco, and others through being assaulted in the line of duty. In four days time, the "Finn's Law" petition is being debated in Parliament, with view to giving police animals status over and above that of "property" - Something that I'd appreciate you looking in to and seeing how you can help raise awareness if you've read this far.

If you've stumbled across this as a potential new rottweiler owner, don't believe the press.. but don't think it's easy. You will not find a more compassionate, caring and family oriented breed than this. If you want a dog with a big heart that will look out for you and your family, then look no further. To get that dog, you have a strong willed canvas which will debate with you, test you, and regularly have you pulling your hair out - every day is worth it.

Thanks for reading.
Paul.

ISO9001 - The route to standards

K9 Protection has a culture of pragmatic honesty within the business, and has done since our inception, sometimes seen as candid, but always respected by the right kind of clients.

Since the company began, K9 Protection Ltd have always had procedures in place to deal with most things. They started off as a "fag-packet guide book", which was gradually replaced by a number of overview policies and procedures, based on templates we procured from various sources, including business groups and friends in the industry. Whatever we did, there was always something lacking. In late 2014, I spoke to our MD about buying in a system, and at the time a consultancy company were offering a pre-written ISO9001:2008 system for £300, so like many security companies, we purchased a copy. We were told to just go through the manual and hilight anything we'd like to change, and once we're ready to proceed, we could just go ahead and get assessment - using the preferred assessment company of the supplier, of course.

After about three months of being too busy, I set to work. Three nights in the office going through the manual page-by-page. Paragraph by paragraph, and at this point came to realise something: What I'd just spent good money on was a pile of crap! The "system" we had purchased didn't fit with our way of doing business at all; and furthermore was blatantly a messy collection of documents collected from various other companies. The blanket search and replace to replace every time a company name had failed to catch any where the punctuation was slightly different. I counted at least four other security companies that the documentation was owned by before being sold to us (and countless others). Even if the names didn't show in the document, they still showed in the document meta-data. Formatting was off; each document was formatted differently, no standardisation across the board of fonts, general conventions, or even file formats - with word processing documents being stored as docx, doc, and rtf files in random places.

When I called the consultancy, I mentioned some of the changes that would be needed "our purchase ordering system is a digital database", our "incident forms are electronically stored" - I was told that we would need to change our way of doing business: to shape our company around the procedure manual. I politely explained that we would not be doing that, as our methododolgy works well, and our current procedures were a better fit, and I was told "it's the way it needs to be done". Needless to say, at the next management meeting, it was discussed and we decided not to proceed with that particular supplier. With the time-line now being July 2015, it was decided to hold off until October to make a decision on ISO with a new system just around the corner.

Where are we at with ISO9001:2015

We have a copy of the ISO9001:2015 manaul, and are currently busy writing new procedures around the way we work to meet the standard. After five years of trading, it's clear that we're doing something right, and that feeling when procedures just flow because it's "just what we do" is reassuring. We are currently managing to draft a procedure each day - with a couple of days passing around the team to ensure it fits before casting it in to the dreaded "for accreditation" directory on the file server. It's a refreshing feeling too that we are coming across things that could work a little better in our current processes, and subsequently tweaking as we go; where data is stored, the structure on the filing system.. even abandoning our beloved DropBox for an in-house file system in order to comply with the data protection laws since "SafeHarbor" was kicked in to touch by the European Courts.

We were anticipating being ISO accredited by October, but a busy Q2 of this year has probably pushed us back nearer the end of the year. This is at great cost to the company. We are still having to decline work for large corps or government departments, and it's frustrating! Not because we're not better than the suppliers that are getting the work, but because through passion, dedication and belief in our way of doing things the same £300 procedure manual has been used to shoe-horn many cowboy competitors in to being ACS and ISO9001 accredited companies.

I'm sure as soon as we have the certificate I'll be told to let everyone know, so until then, thanks for reading.

 

When the government stepped in and told the world they will be bringing in a national living wage there was outcry within the security industry. People who had been paying £6.70 per hour for the chap that risks his life in the dark will suddenly have to pay him a higher wage. People who had undercut the industry in the "race to the bottom" will suddenly have to play the same game as the rest of us and compete on quality, surely? Well.. No!

Experience Costs

At K9 Protection, we interview between 3 and 10 guards per week, depending on how busy we are and how actively we are recruiting. Since around four months before the living wage was due to be launched, our recruiter came to me with an alarming comment: "you wouldn't believe the number of experienced guys lately that have had their hours cut with no explanation" - Well, the explanation is in my mind simple: Rather than charging a fair and reasonable rate, our competition are keeping costs low by employing staff who do not qualify for living wage. They are cutting corners. They are using inexperienced staff to remain the cheapest and win the work. The are trimming other areas of the business in order to survive.

K9 Protection didn't raise our rates when the national minimum wage came in. We didn't have to, as our minimum rate was already £7.25 per hour. Whilst still not good enough by my personal standards for what a good guard does, it was better at the time (and is still better now) than over 80% of our competitors.. many of whom are actually charging more to their clients than we do.

Management Costs

At K9 Protection, when our clients purchase our service, they're not just ticking a box for their insurance company; they're not simply plugging a square hole with a triangular peg. They are buying a service which we are proud of. In addition to the guard, we have an infrastructure that we know makes us better than many of our competitors.

We know our staff - In the office, we have a four person team comprising of our Managing Director, two Operations Managers including myself, and an administrator who handles recruitment, vetting, and accounts payable. There isn't a second tier of management, which means that all of our staff can put a face, a mobile number and an email address to at least 50% of the management team. We don't turn our phones off, and don't hide behind voice-mail.

We know our systems - I know we have the best security guard management application in the business.. I wrote it! All of our business flows through the guard management system; patrols are logged digitally, tracked with GPS and NFC, and sent out to clients if they require on a weekly basis. It doesn't matter if there's no 3g signal where a client's site is located - we thought of that. It doesn't matter if a guard's supervisor isn't available when the lone-worker alarm goes off.. We thought of that too! When the invoice comes around, the time-sheet is taken directly from the system, and as such speeds up the process of checking and verifying the invoice, making life easier for all concerned.

Each one of us in the office are contracted to work 1 hour in the field for every 8 we work in the office - We believe this keeps us current on "real world" issues and shows our team that we are prepared to do anything that we ask of them.

What is security worth

With everything I've written above, what is this worth to a client? Surely from the guard who's ever vigilant, to knowing that the guard is backed by a bulletproof team is worth something? I fully understand that people have budgets to work within, but this is where the line between getting a cheap service and getting genuine value for money becomes blurred.

A cheap service will satisfy your insurance company: a valuable service will prevent loss.

A cheap service will send a guard: a valuable service will make sure the guard is satisfied, awake, and aware of his role.

A cheap service will cut corners to keep you: a valuable service knows you'll respect them saying NO.

How can we improve the industry

There have been several attempts to "cure" the security industry over the years. The Security Industry Authority started very early on with the Approved Contractor Scheme - apparently ISO9001 was good enough for the rest of the world, but wasn't up to the UK standards. Amongst the first companies to get the ACS moniker were G4S, and the press have made sure we're all aware of their handling of the Olympics. When the SIA realised that companies were losing interest in ACS, and purchasers outside of the government procurement scheme rarely care, they decided that all security businesses will need to be licensed. A great idea! Something we jumped for joy when we all heard in the office: a joy that was soon quashed when we heard that each new company will be given a 12 month grace period, meaning it would do absolutely nothing to stop the amateur companies that start up, fold and phoenix as soon as the first tax bill becomes due.

The good news is, we can see a cure to the industry, but it won't happen without our clients, our guards, and our competitors climbing on board.

An honest day's pay for an honest day's work

In order for security to remain a professional service and retain any value over and above a guard on a chair, we need to reward out staff. The government living wage is a start, but it's my personal belief that it's still enough.

We need our client's to realise the difference between a professional security guard and a person who's been forced through the course and sees their SIA license as a license to sit on site watching TV. We need you to understand the investment that a professional dog handler makes in their career when compared with "Harry and his hound in a hatchback", and what an effective dog handling team means to your business compared to a glorified pet.

As a competitor.. Hello! We need to value what we do, setting prices that allow us to pay wages which are in line with giving the best level of service and providing our client's with guards who make them believe that security are worthwhile and valuable; not simply an expense at the bottom of the food chain.

Lastly, guards - you need to value what you do and take pride in your role. Whether you work for us, or for a competitor there is nothing worse than attending site to find out that staff have no enthusiasm, and as such are not doing the job properly. A client asked me to carry out a penetration test on three sites last year as a challenge - they were confident their security would stop me.. I managed to place my business card on the front door of two of the three sites without the guards noticing me, or the card by the time the client returned to work on the Monday morning. We love our guards, we're proud of them; as such we have an extremely low staff turnover and long may it remain - we'd like to hear stories like this across the board.

Whilst living wage is not the be all and end all, it is something that I personally believe is necessary; where is the fairness in security staff being paid less to risk their life than a shop assistant being paid to stack shelves. From today onwards, our Managing Director has allowed me to add two prices to every quote - one based on paying the NLW, and one based on paying what we believe the service is worth. We've had some debate in the office, with our team arguing with me that client's have been conditioned in to thinking it's not worth paying for a service - but I'd like to prove them wrong.

Yesterday, the Chancellor announced possibly the widest scoping budget in many years, possibly even in my lifetime, but the question is: What is it going to mean for us?

At K9 Protection, we understand that our customers are looking for a solution to a problem, and that security is often a reluctant purchase, as let’s be honest – we can rarely fully quantify what we do for you. Did our diesel stop going missing because we got security, or did the thieves just find God? The fact we’ve had no incidents on site for over a year – is it really down to the big fella in the yellow vest that we see walking around from time to time through all weather conditions, or is it just because it’s never going to happen to us? When you cannot quantify a service, the temptation is to buy the cheapest that money can buy, especially when security is often a box ticking exercise for an insurance company’s questionnaire.

The current situation in K9 Protection is that we have never paid minimum wage, and we try to track at about 12% above the minimum wage as our basic rate for “standard” low risk guarding sites. Within the management team, we decided some time ago that we like the work being carried out by the Living Wage Foundation, and we are, albeit slowly, working towards the Living Wage for our employees. As a guide, in 2013-2014, 80% of work taken on was at the lower rate, whereas so far in 2015, about 65% of tasks undertaken are at the lower rates.  Within the security industry, Minimum wage brings all kinds of problems, ranging from recruiting from within a pool of staff with low expectation and no experience, to people being fatigued simply through having a desire to feed their families and pulling hours which are simply unnatural. The current minimum wage allows us to legally discriminate against our staff based on their age – One of our most loyal and trusted guards was 19 when he started working with us; under minimum wage laws we as a company could have paid him a rate lower than the older guards who work for us, yet expect him to do the same job as our other staff – Not something that fits in with our ethos, and even the fact that we could have done so leaves a bitter taste within the management team.

What will K9 Protection be doing? After spending a day to digest the budget information released, K9 Protection will be looking at internal processes in order to adapt and modify in time for the new living wage rates coming in to play. It is our intention that we will remain one of the employers that pay based on role rather than on age, and it is our intention to remain at least 10% above the £7.20 minimum rate announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for ALL employees, not just those aged over 25. How are we going to fund this? Whilst some of the money to fund the pay increases will come from the lower corporation tax rate announced at the same time, it is inevitable that we are going to have to pass on a large proportion of the rises through increases in rates to our customers; something we do with a heavy heart. We will be looking at a timescale where contracts renewing after January 2016 are affected.

In addition to aiming for Living Wage, I have tasked our administrator with finding out about offering both NVQ training and apprenticeships to our staff – not as a way to reduce costs, but as a way to further add to the value of our team through training and new skills. This benefits not only our staff, but our client-base too, as the new skills learned can be applied to their role.

K9 Protection have always believed in adding value to our offering and we feel that by offering our employees that little bit more than our local competitors, they become part of that value: We keep employees who know and understand how our client’s sites operate, and as a result can ensure that security blends in to the background, but remains effective.  In addition to staffing, we are continually evolving as a company – the move to technology, allowing both lone worker protection and guard management from the same in-house developed system has helped us to streamline our management operations. The fact we have a solid ISO9001 procedure manual which we’re holding off until ISO9001:2015 is launched, simply to ensure it’s future proof, the fact we aced our SafeContractor assessment using procedures written in house and “from the heart”, and the fact we are continually looking to work with our clients to improve security at each site we look after mean that we wholeheartedly believe in what we do, and completely believe that our offering is amongst the best money can buy.

As I write this, I wonder who my audience is going to be. I suspect there are clients of ours reading my words and reaching for the Yellow Pages. I also suspect there are one or two competitors out there who are rubbing their hands with glee, as they feel we’re going to be pricing ourselves out of the market. Whilst I hope that our clients will understand our position and work with us, I will understand if the Yellow Pages is tempting – All I will say is, whether it’s me or David, call your account manager and talk it through with us first. When we have competitors desperately phoning our team to cover a dog handler job, but offering rates close to the current minimum wage, then specifying that a “dog handler” isn’t needed as long as the guard has a “good looking pet dog”, We all know this is going to be an up hill struggle, but my belief which is shared in the office today is that the quickest route to extinction would be failing to evolve, I hope you all choose to evolve with us.

Paul Green

Operations Manager

K9 Protection Ltd.

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