The Road Less Traveled: Engaging Millennials in Security Leadership
A career in security is often the road less traveled, but that needs to change in order to ensure future success of the profession and industry.
Millennials like Snapchat, digital banking, online shopping, Whataburger, selfies and Robinhood, the app that lets you trade stocks without paying fees. They also prefer to support local, independent businesses, not global chains; and increasingly, they are living at home and delaying starting a family.
And according to some reports, they also are not very loyal workers, and they demand more from their employers than other generations.
But keeping millennial employees (born between 1981-2002) happy is critical, not only because these workers are more aware of their options but also because of the size of the group. According to Pew Research, the millennials are now America’s largest living generation, larger even than the baby boomers.
So, businesses have to adjust how they nurture loyalty among these workers or risk losing a large percentage of their workforces.
According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, millennials, in general, express little loyalty to their current employers, and many are planning near-term exits. This shocking absence of allegiance represents a serious challenge to any business employing a large number of millennials, especially those in markets like the United States, where millennials now represent the largest segment of the workforce. However, because most young professionals choose organizations that share their personal values, it’s not too late for employers to overcome this “loyalty challenge.”
For example, the study said, almost 90 percent of millennials surveyed in the study said that they would choose to stay in a job for the next 10 years if they knew they’d get annual raises and upward career mobility.
Another recent millennial survey by Qualtrics, a Utah-based survey software firm, and firm Accel Partners found that investing in millennial employees during their first 90 days on the job is key to retaining them. Companies need to try harder at giving millennials a valuable reason to stay, which should go way beyond free food or a cool office, or a work-at-home situation. Workplace happiness is about upward mobility:
promotions, salary increases and the like.
Clearly, it’s difficult to attract and retain talent with millennials, and even more so with the security industry. How is the industry attracting and retaining talent in physical and enterprise security? Why are millennials entering the profession? And why aren’t they?
“Unfortunately, short shrift has been given to the lower rungs of the career ladder,” says Chris Hertig, CPP, former college professor at York College of Pennsylvania. “There has instead been a traditional emphasis on mid- or senior-level management by folks in the industry,” Hertig says, who is a member of the Young Professionals Council of ASIS. “Because of that we don’t have ‘feeder systems’ into security management, except for second-career professionals and retirees. Compounding the problem is that security as an academic discipline has not taken root on college campuses. Without an academic base in research and theory, no field can become a true profession. But security keeps trying to be the first!”
Hertig notes that an academic foothold can be gained by innovative curriculum design with IT, Criminal Justice and other disciplines within Colleges and Universities. “An academic minor in Security Management would complement those programs nicely and provide significantly greater career mobility for the program graduates,” he says.
There is progress being made. According to Hertig, “The industry has had a career ladder with entry and mid-management certification programs for some time. People become Certified Protection Officers (CPOs), then earn the Certified in Security Supervision & Management (CSSM) credential. Finally, they attain the Certified Protection Professional (CPP). Note that the CSSM section on Physical Security was written, in part, to prepare people for the Physical Security Professional (PSP) exam. Further, both the Loss Prevention Foundation and the International Foundation for Protection Officers have partnered with universities so that their professional certification processes are incorporated within academia. The IT field does this extensively, and the security industry needs to do a lot more of it. ASIS currently is assessing the development of an entry-level management credential.”
However, Hertig suggests that practitioners and industry leaders also need to utilize the existing resources while simultaneously eliminating any and all roadblocks to create a pathway into security management. In short: create a scenario where millennials want to be a part of the enterprise security profession.
Jason Veiock, Manager of Global Employee Safety and Security for GoDaddy, manages a team of 10, with four millennials. “The days of working for a company for more than 10 years is past,” he says. “When employees join my team, I ask them to tell me how I can help them be successful in future roles. Because millennials are not going to be with you for many years, but they will be an advocate for your company and future employees. So I look for continuous learners. School is over; this is a job. So work hard for me, and I will help you succeed in your career.”
We spoke with several millennials who are employed within security about how and why they got into the industry, and they echoed some of Hertig’s comments. Their stories are unique. And each one told us that can’t imagine doing anything else in terms of their career.
Security magazine: Did you ever want to have a career in security?
Gary Johnson, Senior Consultant for Prevention Advisors: My desires to be a Federal Agent waned, and I decided to pursue loss prevention as a career path. And it was at a time in the industry when retail security protocols were being refined to a more proactive and collaborative working style with other parts of the retail business. It started to morph into business conversations about shrinkage, margin erosion and loss avoidance...versus metrics around number of shoplifters caught or employee theft admission averages.
Michael DeNight, Dealer Program Manager for My Alarm Center: It had never crossed my mind that I would be working in security. I’ve always had an interest in technology, but especially when I began working in the industry, alarm systems felt more like passive household fixtures like smoke detectors than they did like the sorts of exciting, life-changing home automation and video gadgets that are on the market today. That change felt as if it happened overnight.
Shane Musgrove, COO of Anderson Security Agency: I never saw myself working in the security industry long term. I, like many of my colleagues, planned on entering into a career of law enforcement, and while trying to work towards that goal between the ages of 18 and 21, I became a security officer. During the early years of my career as a security professional, I still looked for other opportunities outside of the industry. It wasn’t until I was exposed to the “corporate structure” of a large organization that I was able to see the true potential of a career in the industry.
Matthew Underwood, Systems Engineer, Physical Security for Carolinas HealthCare System: Not exactly, I distinctly remember telling my internship sponsor that I did not think I would pursue security as a career. I hoped to get on with the State Park Service upon graduation from Pfeiffer. I had difficulty landing a role with the State immediately after graduation but was able to get an entry-level security job. I didn’t really see security as a potential career path until I moved into the Training and Investigations Division.
Security: How did you get into your current role?
Gary Johnson: I transitioned into the business as a store detective and moved quickly through the ranks to a leadership role. I was fortunate to work for a company that fostered personal development and rewarded people who performed and were able to deliver results. Within my first year as a store detective, I was promoted to a larger span of control and was responsible for about 30 stores.
Shane Musgrove: At the age of 21, I was a security officer still working towards my goal of law enforcement. John Wakefield, my Security Director (and uncle) convinced me to apply for a Director of Security position with our current organization. He assisted me through the process, and I eventually relocated to take on the new role. Over the course of the next 15 years, I relocated eight more times to five states, and worked for five different companies, advancing in position with each. Along the way, I went back to college and graduated with a Master’s degree as well as several industry-related certificates. At points in my career, I have had responsibility for $75 million in annual revenues, led senior leaders in multiple states and provided my security expertise and advisement to a multitude of clients. Most recently I have been afforded the opportunity to become the Chief Operating Officer for Anderson Security Agency, a local, female-owned company. It was my previous experience, performance, education and knowledge of the industry that lead to this opportunity.
Security: What challenges have you had to overcome in your security career?
Gary Johnson: The biggest obstacle then was my age and lack of credibility with some of the store operators. Certainly the old, grizzled veterans were reluctant to blindly take the work of a “young whippersnapper.” But by showing results, I was able to gain some key supporters. And more importantly, I delivered the shrink improvements we had targeted, and nothing sells yourself or your ideas like a few successes. Even when dealing with the police on employee theft, when I started out you really had to prove you knew what you were doing – and don’t forget they were not familiar with having professional LP investigators in stores or having felony cases delivered to them on a proverbial silver platter.
Michael DeNight: In the security industry, there are a lot of geographical and personality differences that need to be considered, especially when a position requires as much intercompany networking as an acquisitions role does. Not everyone in the industry is created equal – some people run very small family businesses out of their homes growing only from word of mouth; some have an insatiable desire for growth and an aggressive sales approach; some only take security work when it figures into other low voltage or home entertainment wiring jobs. Home security is not a one-size-fits-all, and as a young professional, it was initially difficult to develop the ability to look at every alarm company on an individual basis, instead of as part of one monolithic industry.
Shane Musgrove: While I overcame multiple challenges, the hardest for me was justifying my place in the industry at such a young age. I was a very young adult with a multitude of responsibilities and in most cases, even now, I am managing individuals that are both older and in some cases have more security-related experience than I do. I definitely had to earn and retain the respect of my leadership team, peers and subordinates alike.
Matthew Underwood: The biggest challenge once I moved into my current role was realizing just how much I had to learn. I had construction experience from summer jobs, working on a farm growing up, but I had very little knowledge regarding the intricacies of building code, etc. It also took me a while to become proficient/comfortable operating within the variety of security systems that my division is responsible for. I have also had to learn a lot about door hardware as that has recently become an area of emphasis within my division.
Security: Do you plan to stay in the security profession?
Gary Johnson: Yes, loss prevention and corporate security are now in my blood. I really can’t imagine doing anything else. I have led successful LP programs at brands like Barnes & Noble, The Vitamin Shoppe, A&P Supermarkets, and I have seen the exciting transformation of the security industry. When I was the Chairman for the National Retail Federation Advisory Board, I had the chance to work with many high-profile colleagues and shape the industry, including work on Capitol Hill to bring about change for example in expanding laws targeting organized retail crime. Even now, as I embark on the next phase of my career, consulting with a boutique practice called Prevention Advisors, my clients are primarily retail organizations that are seeking expertise in the complex and threatening world we live and operate in – from risk assessments, robbery prevention, cybersecurity, active shooter exercises, to handling social media threats. Today, corporate security should have a seat at the table and must be involved in the nuts and bolts of the business at the enterprise level.
Shane Musgrove: I do plan on staying in the security industry as it is all I have known for the past 21 years. As a young executive I feel that the sky is the limit, and my current organization, Anderson Security Agency, has an amazing owner (Kim Matich), great foundation and reputation and an aggressive growth plan. Over the next 10 years, I plan to assist with the growth of my current organization while continuing to be active in our community and industry associations where I often speak on security-related topics including workplace violence, fire life safety, managing risk and others. I have even considered staying in the industry after retirement.
Matthew Underwood: I do at present. It is an interesting and evolving profession. I learn something new every week. I have gained skills and knowledge ranging from advanced de-escalation techniques, self-defense, electronic access control and door hardware. I enjoy the industry and especially enjoy my role within the physical security world.
Security: What message would you send to young students, college students, to entice them to get into the security profession?
Gary Johnson: Unfortunately, today’s college students have grown up in a different world. Since the 9/11 tragedy and the continual threats that we face both on a global stage and here at home, today’s college students have experienced the needs for multi-layered, interactive and proactive security. The opportunities for making a difference in our security position are vast and can really be crafted to suit the student’s interest, expertise and capabilities. For example, a student with foreign language or linguistic expertise is in demand on the law enforcement and legal front. The same is true of the math whiz, the computer genius, or cyber student – all have opportunities within the security and law enforcement space. The future needs for security are many. Students should contemplate the security role and create hybrid opportunities to maximize their skills and leverage interests, which will have a tremendous business impact on their employer and for the safety of their co-workers. For those considering retail loss prevention, I suggest a cross-discipline in the supply chain/logistics area and cybersecurity. The divide between physical security and virtual (cyber breaches and hacks) is blurring, and tomorrow’s LP professional will be expected to be an expert at both.
Michael DeNight: The security industry is unique in that it combines a very blue collar trade on the service end with advanced gadgetry and technology, a robust amount of accounting and customer management on the executive level, as well as a public good in providing people with the peace of mind and very serious applications that a security system can have. I cannot think of another profession that can pull together such disparate and interesting threads that suit so many sensibilities.
Shane Musgrove: Think of security as a career, not a job. With the right training, education, attitude and opportunity, you can go from an entry-level security officer to a COO in the course of 20 years! I also encourage young security professionals to look beyond the “security” aspect of the security industry. There are currently positions in the security industry in departments such as legal, training, financial, human resources, statistical, fleet management, IT, benefits, insurance, government services and more.
Patrick Markham, Regional Vice President, STC for Guidepost Solutions Security & Technology Consulting: A lot of former law enforcement still get hired in the industry, but a criminal justice degree with a security focus opens up more paths. I picked my college because it was one of the only ones that had law enforcement and security management courses. I think the schools need to push the message that they have professional security programs. I also credit sticking with ASIS. It was an ‘older gentleman’s club,’ and being young and hanging out with older and experienced professionals to earn their respect and interject ideas was not easy. But you have to put yourself out there to network. I like security because we want to stop the bad things from occurring, where law enforcement wants to catch the bad guy. Back in my retail security days, the question was “how many shoplifters did you catch today?” The better question is “how many shoplifting incidents did you prevent from occurring?”
Matthew Underwood: There aren’t a lot of people that look to security as profession. Part of it may be due to the stigma associated with the industry through popular culture, etc. However, it can be a very rewarding and fun career. There aren’t a lot of formal educational programs targeted at aspiring security professionals. That’s okay, though, because a lot of people don’t end up working in the exact field that they received their degree in. Security management requires skills ranging from business, emergency management and, of course, subject matter expertise concerning a variety of security subjects. It truly is a multi-disciplinary field. You may wear a law enforcement hat one hour, an electrical engineering hat the next and a life safety specialist hat that afternoon.
Four Things You Need to Know About Millennials
According to Micah Solomon, President and CEO of Four Aces Inc., “Generational conflict in the workplace has become a growth industry lately for consultants, speakers and authors. But I’m doubtful that this industry’s central premise – the idea that everyone in a generation acts essentially like everyone else in that generation, and that it’s possible, therefore, to ‘generationally manage’ your workforce – is the most useful way to think about your workforce.”
Thus, Solomon offers the following suggestions on how to work with and manage millennials:
They want to share responsibility – so find ways to let them. Millennials, in many cases, have grown up under a style of parenting that supported individual empowerment, where the kids were almost always included in family decision-making. They often get a bad rap for coming into the workforce with an immediate sense of entitlement. So as an employer, try to create opportunities that give millennials the chance to take responsibility and find success on a micro level before they move on to larger roles. And make it clear that advancement isn’t possible on the millennial’s idealized schedule, but that if they make a commitment to their current position and department, they will be rewarded with additional opportunities for growth on a timetable that they can depend on.
Support their desire for work/life balance. Millennials have often shared with me their unwillingness to sacrifice their off-work time or to make other lifestyle compromises in return for financial compensation. Accept that the millennial desire for work-life balance is admirable and that any scheduling solutions you make in this regard will also benefit your overall workforce; the desire to have time for a life outside of work is not exclusive to any one generation.
Let them work for an ethical organization – by being one. Just like millennial customers, millennial employees (and potential employees) are concerned with organizational ethics and social responsibility. The extent to which you can satisfy these concerns will determine a significant part of your success in recruiting and retaining your pick of employees.
Yes, they want feedback. So give it to them. Many millennials have received adult feedback throughout their earlier years; they’ve often had close involvement from parents in their education and close support and encouragement from teachers and mentors at school. Provide more input. Not just via formal, periodic performance reviews, but through informal responses daily or weekly. Your employees will appreciate this, and you’ll get more out of them to boot.
Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant offering both retail and B2B customer service and customer experience consulting and initiatives. He is keynote speaker and the author of four books on customer service, the customer experience, and millennials as customers. Reach him at email@example.com.