Addressing Skills Shortage in the Electronic Security Industry

security technician installing CCTV camera

The Electronic Security industry had a major shift in technology approximately 5 years ago with the implementation of IP (Internet Protocol) Cameras and Systems, and of late the implementation of IoT (Internet of Things) which aims at integrating everything that is IP Based.

This caused many previously skilled tradesman to simply leave the industry, as the new training required was too extensive and fast paced to justify. I believe this was the first problem we faced in relation to Skill Shortages.

Traineeship and Apprenticeships

When I learnt the trade 13 years ago, the training was a simple 6 month (4hours/week) course to be recognised as a Security Technician. I had a passion for electronics and this suited me well because I was straight into the workforce. Unfortunately for most school leavers, this was not a welcoming career path as it was not classed as a trade. This is definitely a factor that has contributed to the current skill shortage.

Only recently in the last 1 – 2 years, has the Security Industry done something about this. Having implemented a 3-year traineeship which incorporates electronics, security and telecommunications. However, we still face some issues:

  • School leavers are not attracted to the hands-on work, preferring to study for a degree that may not bear fruit.
  • Training required for a minimum of 2 – 4 years until they are experienced enough to be productive.

NBN – National Broadband Network

When the NBN began the rollout in 2013, there was a need for electronic technical resources. As the largest rollout of a network in Australia, costing $56B, there was no shortage of budget to recruit from any and every avenue to find tech resources. The Security Industry once again suffered from this. The attractive salaries that NBN could offer were too competitive to retain the staff within our industry.

Recruiting and Employment Strategies

We have now been operating for ten years. As the Owner/Director, I have faced many difficulties within the business, with the most difficult by far being recruitment and staff retention.

In Australia, the unemployment rate is low and sometimes it is more convenient to access the government resources than to seek employment. Conjointly many employees are not concerned with attaining good work references, as finding alternate employment is relatively easy. This drives a lack of work ethic and loyalty.

In our industry, we face all of the above issues, in addition to a serious skill shortage. We are currently a team of 6-9 staff. I say 6-9 because skilled staff poaching is rampant, and we find ourselves needing to frequently rebuild as a result. We have implemented many ideas and strategies to assist us with this.

Staff Retention Strategies

  • Provide tech staff with more responsibility to encourage their own growth and goals to accomplish
  • More flexibility with their work hours
  • Provide training on different and new products
  • Get tech staff more involved with the business and the strategies of moving the business forward, so to engage them more at a higher level
  • We offer the work vehicle and fuel cards for personal use at times
  • We provide a mobile phone, laptop and iPad and include personal use
  • If they put an extra effort in, we may send them and their family for a nice dinner
  • We have induction programs in place for all new staff. This includes a one on one meeting with the staff member on Day 1, Day 8, Week 4, Week 8, 3 months. This meeting goes through their progress within the organisation, any concerns, issues, needs, requirements, support etc
  • We push for a monthly morning team meeting, with a cook up breakfast on the BBQ and all sit down to go through concerns, issues and goals moving forward and encouraging socialisation.
  • We occasionally have an afternoon off for a few beers (eg, this year we went to the pub for Melbourne cup for lunch and beers all afternoon)
  • We host a Xmas party every year. All you can eat, all you can drink.
  • Employment contracts promising financial bonuses after 12 month periods
  • Xmas bonuses – financial or gifts.

Recruitment Strategies

1) We have recently qualified for the 457 Sponsorship Program. (Now the 482 Visa). As an approved sponsor we are now entitled to employ skilled resources from overseas. This has proven to be challenging due to the many commitments required from business. Majority of the regulations favour the employee rather than the employer, except for one, which does require the employee to full fill 3 years of employment with the business who sponsored them. This is beneficial to us, but the risks still out way the benefits.

Hiring from overseas requires:

  • Return travel for the employee and their family should they change their minds.
  • Liability for up to $10k if they were to leave from our direct care/business.
  • Typically fly them here and provide 3 months accommodation while they find their feet. Not mandatory but definitely recommended.

Simply put the cost alone to repatriate someone from UK, South Africa, Europe etc. is substantial enough to dissuade us from the decision.

2) Other considerations would be an apprentice who is hands-on and willing to work. The plan is to shape the apprentice into a skilled technician. Pending his work ethic, commitment and attitude over his traineeship will determine his position with us for the future. Should this system be beneficial for the company we will continue to invest in trainees moving forward.

3) Sub-contracting has become very popular over the past 10 years as self-employment is very attractive to many. The problem is this drives up cost and profits down for the contracting company. The government is trying to put a stop to this by penalising the company. They do this by stating if a subcontractor works for “X” amount of hours per month, the company must also pay for the 9.5% super. However, this is already included in the sub-contractors hourly rate. The government needs to consider implementing this on the sub-contractors side to really make an impact.

Based on our knowledge of the industry, sub-contracting is popular among the larger companies like ADT, Chubb etc. They use this business model to overcome the staffing issue. This creates issues with customer service and puts a negative spin on our industry. Sub-contractors typically have their own customers, which are given first priority and the sub-contracting work is to fill in their gaps. This causes poor customer service and a lack of workmanship.

We do at times use sub-contractors but we manage them closely and follow up their work. We utilise their services only where customer service is not directly required or have them working alongside our own staff. None the less this is not a sustainable solution to the problem.

To be completely honest. We do not yet have a concrete solution to rely on. The government’s poor effort to improve the skills shortage has proven to be inefficient. We do our best to keep our current staff motivated and happy, but the lack of tech resources does put us at a disadvantage since technicians are constantly lured from one company to another. This adds significant stress to a company. We fight the battle between small local business vs cooperate multinationals regularly.  Staff poaching and false promises to our staff from other companies, and battle legislation aimed at the employee, whilst nothing protecting the employer.

With all that said we do have very loyal staff members who have stuck with us for many years. The respect that they have for the business and for me personally continues to attract them to stand by us to keep growing together. We show our appreciation by mutual respect. I would say that this would be our most successful staff retention strategy to date!