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The Changing Face of Surveillance Training Qualifications?

I feel qualified to write this article as I have been involved in the commercial surveillance sector for the past 25 years, that’s what I do.

Things are things afoot in the surveillance sector in respect of qualifications, and I am hoping that the ‘powers that be’ do not let things slide down a slippery slope as they did with the Close Protection qualification when it was introduced in the UK, by the Security Industry Authority (SIA). Some would argue that it is not ‘fit for purpose’, some would say that it is. Think of this; there is a big difference between being ‘highly trained’ and ‘having undergone basic training to obtain a licence’.

The SIA does not state on their website that you have to be a super highly trained bodyguard to obtain a licence, it states that you have to undergo 140 hours of training. If that is what it states on the tin, that’s what you get.

Either way, set the SIA aside as they have nothing to do with our sector (yet) but I have heard criticism on social media that some surveillance qualifications are not worth the paper they are written on, and this is true to some extent, but it’s all down to the training provider.

Let’s get something straight; if someone knocks on our door with a Level 3 Certificate in Close Protection, I automatically understand that they are not experts or highly trained. The answer is in the qualification title ‘Level 3 Certificate’. The ‘Level 3’ part tells me what level the individual has been assessed at, and the ‘Certificate’ part tells me they have had 140 hours of training, that’s it. Similarly, if someone holds a Level 3 Award in Mobile Surveillance they have attended a medium to basic course of training over a 60 hour period (Level 3 / Award), so with that in mind, I would not expect them to be an expert of super highly trained, but at least capable to a certain level. You can only do so much in that time, so the quality comes from the level of instruction provided over that training period combined with the student’s aptitude.

Not a lot of people know this, but when you undergo a CP course, the training topics, subjects and outcomes are already written out in a Specification Document. This specification is what every CP training provider has to work to, as a ‘minimum’ requirement within 140 hours of guided learning hours. The course is listed on what is called the Regulated National Qualifications & Credit Framework (NCF) – It is a national qualification, setting out minimum standards written by a bunch of blokes back in 2001 or so. Individual CP Training companies then deliver the course covering all of the learning outcomes from the specification. The course is made ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by the level of instruction, experience, facilities, exercises and guided learning hours, etc.

Within Surveillance it is much different but soon to be changed.

Today, there are a number of companies offering ‘accredited’ surveillance training courses, but NONE of these courses are the same product, they are all different. Any training provider that offers these ‘qualifications’ in surveillance is offering their ‘OWN’ product in what is classed as a ‘Customised’ qualification that has been endorsed by an accrediting body such as the likes of Pearson / Edexcel, Highfield, Industry Qualifications, NCFE or City & Guilds.

For example, The ISS Level 4 Award in Surveillance is classed as a ‘Customised Award’. It is a qualification that ISS designed; set the content, the learning outcomes and the strictness of the assessment test.

Now then, another surveillance training provider may also offer a similar sounding qualification, but their course will also be a ‘Customised Award’, and it would have been designed by them to cover what they feel is right and to their own standards. Therefore, no two surveillance qualifications are the same if they are from different training providers. You would expect them to be, but this is far from the truth. ‘Super Spook Surveillance Ltd’ can push out a Level 3 or 4 Award/Certificate but it could be all classroom theory based with minimal vehicle work, without fully covert comms’ or structured assessments and so on.

A disgrace maybe, but training providers can do what they want so long as they ‘map’ it out and have it accredited as their work. I attended a meeting recently where a rep’ from another major surveillance company admitted that they had not failed a student in the past 11 years, they issue everyone with a ‘pass’. I felt sorry for those who had paid money to this company to be given a worthless piece of paper in return.

So what of the future?

For those familiar with the MOD, ELCAS Scheme, military personnel, in the UK, are given an allowance to pay for civilian training. ELCAS state that the course attended has to be at Level 3 (or above) and on the regulated NCF (as mentioned above). A few months ago, the MOD stopped allowing service men and women to attend surveillance courses as the qualifications were not listed on the NCF. A very short-sighted and poor decision as far as the MOD are concerned – in one swoop, they disadvantaged many service leavers of a choice.

As a consequence, the accrediting bodies are now devising a ‘general’ qualification in surveillance that will be put up on the regulated NCF as a national qualification, just like the one in Close Protection. The course is currently being designed, and a number of people are involved in its implementation. I just hope that the final course structure, content and assessments do it justice, unlike the controversial CP course.

Free For All?

When this course is up on the NCF, anyone running a security company or training company (or wanting to start one up) will be able to offer surveillance training qualifications. The accrediting bodies will set a criterion to deliver it (demonstrate instructor competency & experience etc), but I can see them being flannelled by those who have minimum experience claiming to be experts and qualified trainers to offer the course. The accrediting bodies, after all, make their money from issuing certificates and so ‘volume’ may be high on the agenda and something to keep an eye on.

I might be somewhat cynical, but I remember life before regulation. Three or four CP training companies were offering 4-week CPO courses at the time, and it was good training. Then comes the SIA, who develop a 140-hour NQF course and throw it open to the world to deliver. There are now 96 companies listed on the SIA website offering the ‘off the shelf’ CP qualification.

I am sure it will go the same way with surveillance training when the qualification is put up on the NCF. Every man and his dog will be offering it, and shortcuts will be taken to be competitive. The companies at the top of the tree have a head start as reputation speaks a lot. However, to compete, the others will have to cut their price to a bare minimum and will result in them using minimum staff, inferior equipment, less time in vehicles etc. and generally turn out poorly ‘trained’ students.

There is a big difference in being ‘surveillance trained’ and having ‘attended a training course’, so be careful who you part your hard earned cash with. It will be interesting to see how many companies spring up by this time next year.

The Changing Face of Surveillance Training Qualifications?By Peter Jenkins – ISS Training Ltd


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