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Defining Professionalism in the Personal Protection Industry

For many Close Protection Officers, finding work is harder than it has ever been.

Not because there is less work out there; in fact, the opposite is probably true. With global threat levels at an all-time high, there is more work in the security industry now than there ever has been, and the security industry is booming. However, it’s harder to find work because there are now thousands more so-called ‘qualified’ CPOs chasing after every position.

It is a fact that most licensed operators have never actually done a day’s close protection work in their lives. At the time of writing this article, there are over 14,000 valid UK CP licences. Yes, over fourteen thousand people in the UK currently have a license to operate as a Close Protection Officer. There are probably hundreds of thousands of US bodyguards, and globally… who knows how many Protection Officers there are.

Before licensing, one protection-based position would have probably attracted just ten to fifteen high-quality, experienced applicants. Now literally hundreds of people apply for every single position, and so if you don’t have the right background, the proper training or the right experience, your CV is unlikely even to get looked at, let alone get yourself invited for an interview.

Before licensing, the close protection industry was selective, discreet and understandably fairly elitist – it had to be, as ultimately, the job could involve protecting someone’s life. But now, virtually anyone can train and get an SIA license to protect; all you need to do now is pay your money and turn up for your course. It really is as simple as that. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, training was tough, demanding and unforgiving, and only the very best of the best would pass and go on to a career in this specialised sector of security. Now, however, in the UK, at least, fails are rarely given, and many CP training companies actually have a money-back guarantee; they will pass you just because they want to market and sell their training courses as a guaranteed 100% pass rate. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

Before the licensing, training was extremely practical, with drills practised over and over and over again until perfect. Now, for many companies, training is mainly classroom based because they want to run the course in as short a time as possible to cut costs and increase profitability.

According to government criteria, all CP courses should take a minimum of 140 hours – which in theory, means that if you train for 12 hours a day, you can complete your course in just under 11 days straight. How can people learn everything that is needed in close protection in only 11 days? How can someone protect another person’s life after just 11 days of training? When I first trained back in the early ‘late ’80s, it took three to four days alone to master embuss and debuss procedures; we practised over and over and over again, for hours upon hours each day.

But not now. According to the SIA website, an accredited course should cover (deep breath):

  • Roles and Responsibilities of the Close Protection Operative,

  • Threat and Risk Assessment,

  • Surveillance Awareness,

  • Operational Planning,

  • Law and Legislation,

  • Interpersonal Skills,

  • Close Protection Teamwork and Briefing,

  • Conduct Reconnaissance,

  • Close Protection Foot Drills,

  • Route Selection,

  • Close Protection Journey Management,

  • Search Procedures,

  • Incident Management and Venue Security.

Additionally, the Conflict Management Module should cover:

  • Avoiding Conflict and Reducing Personal Risk,

  • Defusing Conflict,

  • Resolving and Learning from Conflict,

  • Application of Communication Skills

  • Conflict Management for Security Guarding and Close Protection

All this critical training in just 140 hours! And so, because of this, every wannabe – regardless of aptitude and attitude – with a couple of grand and two weeks spare can get a license to, quite possibly, protect the life of another human being. The Police Service has strict admission criteria, extensive training and a rigorous pass-or-fail policy. The Fire Service and Paramedics are the same, yet the close protection industry in the UK has a ‘pay your money, and you’ll pass regardless’ system that most would agree has both lessened the value of a license to operate and significantly de-professionalised a once fairly professional industry.

So, because there are thousands of CP licenses, does this mean there are thousands of brilliant and expertly trained professional CPOs? Definitely not! There are more unprofessional and under-trained CPOs in the industry now than there ever has been.

By its very nature, this industry should be professional and should be elitist, and most security industry professionals would agree with me. Most wannabes, however, would not! In most countries, you would be laughed at if you said you were a professional protection officer after just having attended a 140-hour training course. Yet most CPOs have no other training whatsoever aside from their initial training. Also, many CPOs don’t have any close-quarter combat experience either (I’m not talking martial arts or self-defence but close-quarter combat skills that enable you to disarm and disable a potential attacker and defend your client), and unbelievably, there are also qualified protection officers who don’t even have a driver’s licence.

The simple fact is that by over-commercialising close protection training courses, finding work in the industry is extremely difficult because a standard CP course does not guarantee professionalism as it should. How can it if virtually anyone from any background can attend a course and pass? All that the initial training (and a license) shows is that you have acquired a very basic understanding of CP operations and procedures and that everyone has trained at roughly the same level as everyone else – ‘roughly’ being the operative word!

So how does one define professionalism in the close protection industry?

It is a fact that most people who are currently working in protection still originate from the Military or emergency services. Probably as many as 75% of all working CPOs have a services background. However, despite this fact, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have a military career to enter and achieve success within the world of close protection (there are some brilliant CPOs that do not come from a military background). But, because you are mostly competing with former Military and Services personnel, you must be driven and goal-oriented and be willing to overcome the many obstacles that fall in front of you, and of course, you need to be resilient. But it is possible, and over the years, I have known many non-military personnel who have had outstanding careers as Protection Officers. However, industry-wide, there aren’t so many, and to be successful, they’ve had to specialise in skilled areas where they needed to invest heavily and commit to a lot of professional development.

These are the people who define professionalism.

There is a good saying that I like to use: “If you really want to change your life, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find excuses.”

In the protection industry, it is easy to create excuses for not finding work, for not attending further training courses, and for not studying the industry in your spare time, or for not going, two or three nights a week, to a close quarter combat class, but for those that don’t depend upon excuses for their failings, it is possible to achieve, and achieve big. It’s up to you though.`

Defining professionalism in the personal protection industryBy Robin Barratt

Robin Barratt is a security consultant specialising in HR and close protection recruitment. He is based between Norfolk, UK and Manama, Bahrain.

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