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The challenges facing security professionals have evolved exponentially over the last few years. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, brought the face of a global threat to American soil. Advancements in technology have raised the opportunities for monetary and identity theft and cyber terrorism. There are new challenges at every turn, and employers are demanding more and more from job applicants every day.
Today’s security managers and officers are stepping into new roles – beating back the stereotypical concept of the mall cop and emerging as highly sought-after security professionals tasked with protecting persons, property and information from an ever-changing catalog of threats. But to meet these challenges – domestic and foreign, public and private – head on, security professionals need to be prepared for when entering the field, including when and where to seek a college degree, what skills employers are most focused on, where to get them and ways to keep one’s skills current.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for security officers is expected to grow by 18 percent between 2010 and 2020. And, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), the needs for Security Managers, Security Management Specialists and Security Officers are all expected to grow over the same time period, with Information Security Analysts leading the pack with an expected growth rate of 20 to 28 percent. With this increased demand comes an increased pool of professional prospects competing for the same positions. To differentiate one’s self, it’s critical to bring a solid education and up-to-date training to the interview table.
Gaining an educational foundation specific to the security field is becoming more essential every day. Today’s hiring game has changed, with more and more employers seeking candidates with college degrees specific to the industry. This wasn’t always the case. When I was in high school, the most important agenda on my list wasn’t college, but to go into the Air Force. It was a dream that I had for as long as I can remember. Nothing besides actually graduating was more important to my future than the Air Force, so I chose a career in the military, not college. At that time, college was something I would do later in life and frankly, had no desire to attend at all.
However, my attitude changed as the years went by. Academia in the military is important and actually is mandated to some degree. Military training itself is a form of academia and put me on a path to realizing the importance of education, but I realized I needed a degree not only to compete, but especially to advance in the field. Today, many organizations require a degree to obtain a promotion and often base their pay on education level.
For those seeking to enter and advance in any area of the security field, I offer the following suggestions:
- When selecting a college, it’s critical to always make sure that they are fully accredited and will offer the programs you need. While many institutions may boast a security or criminal justice-specific curriculum, do your homework ahead of time. Ask questions about their programs, learn more about the faculty and their professional experience, and inquire about concentrations within the degree areas to make sure you get an education specific to your area of security or criminal justice.
- Taking on an education is a big responsibility. For professionals already working in the field, balancing work and home life can be difficult enough without the added responsibility of an education. Consider colleges that offer online or evening and weekend programs that will fit into your schedule so that you can dedicate the time needed to your studies without putting other parts of your life on hold.
- In addition to time, there’s the added aspect of cost associated with college. Be sure to speak with financial advisors at the college and research your options to fund your education prior to making any commitments. A good college will be transparent about their costs and some even offer free financial tools to help you estimate your educational expenses prior to enrolling.
The key to success in today’s challenging and changing security field is to never stop learning. While a degree can help you get your foot in the door or make the next step up the promotional ladder, continued training and education is critical to staying on top of today’s biggest security threats. No longer can you get by having just a general knowledge of the law. You have to be educated in the areas of terrorism, risk management, drug awareness, preventative safety measures, OSHA, ADA and emergency management, just to name a few.
For instance, security is not just based on the commonly known forms of security locks, gates and asset protection. An emerging educational opportunity is in the area of cyber security. In the world of cyber terrorism and fraud, a cyber-security professional is a valuable commodity to an organization. Cyber terrorism and those who perpetrate these crimes are often foreign nationals and hard to track. A cyber-security expert needs the education to keep updated on this ever-changing crime, and he or she often requires continued education just to keep current with the trends in this digital age.
Regardless of our specialized area of security, constant training is vital. Professionals should continue to seek out opportunities to expand and update their knowledge. These opportunities can include:
- Speaking with your employer, co-workers and other professionals already in the field to obtain a broad based understanding of their skills. Learn what it took them to get at the professional level they are at, what type of education they feel is important to succeed in the industry and what training courses have they taken.
- Not limiting yourself to one level of security or one skillset. Learn about everything; study about everything. Get a degree in multiple facets of security. For example, Security Management, Criminal Justice, Security Studies and Leadership or Justice and Public Safety Information Management, just to name a few.
- Joining a national and international organization such as the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS). They provide certifications, standards and guidelines for security professionals.
- Finding out about internships with local businesses, law enforcement, military or government organizations. This gives you a leg up on other individuals by getting your name out there and helping you understand their educational requirements. Often, internships give you credits toward your degree.
- Taking any form of professional training you can. Learn about law, use of force, handcuffing, self defense, tactical communication, computers, risk management and OSHA, for example. All of these skills are used by security professionals every day and are just the basics.
- Contacting organizations such as the Bureau of Justice Assistance/U.S. Department of Justice. This group has online training and seminars throughout the country. One program they offer is a State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training (SLATT). The Department of Homeland Security also offers a wide variety of training programs, educational opportunities, internships and certifications.
The threats facing the public and private security sectors will continue to increase, creating more and more demand for the most informed, educated and knowledgeable security professionals. Whether it be earning a degree or acquiring new skills or training, it is critical that all security professionals recognize that they must be dedicated to lifelong learning in order to protect our nation, its people and property from any and all threats.
About the Author
Jason Hudson is the director of Security & Safety for the Santa Fe Station Casino & Hotel. Hudson is also the current vice president of the Las Vegas Security Chiefs Association and a Security Academy instructor for Station Casinos. He has served in numerous supervisory and leadership roles in security positions in the hospitality/casino market and began his career with the United States Air Force Security Police. Hudson holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration from University of Phoenix, along with numerous certifications, classes and seminars in the fields of casino security, security management and Homeland Security.