National Living wage - Two months on

National Living wage - Two months on

 

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.

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