Towards security professionalisation: The cultural journey to employ and develop future security professionals



By Michael Coole & Dr. David Brooks, Edith Cowan University

The security industry and its associated bodies believe they are moving towards professionalisation; however, one sign of a true profession is the employment and development of graduates. Unlike established professions, the security industry lacks such graduate employment and this situation has to change. The time organisations can just rely on employing ex-police or defence persons without higher education credentials may be coming to an end as a higher professionalisation is required within the security domain.

Today’s modern society relies on professionals to solve complex problems. Such professionals commenced their careers as university graduates. University education imparts a foundational, abstract body of knowledge that is contextualised and further developed into professional competence and ultimately, refined over time into expertise within the work place.

In many of the traditional professions such as medicine or engineering this occurs through formalised graduate programs. Graduate programs seek to provide mentoring so that those entering the workforce from universities are taught the art of transferring theory into practice. That is, they undertake their professional apprenticeships. For these more traditional professions graduate programs are a cultural norm, as it is well recognised that graduates need professional development prior to achieving the status of competent professional. However, for the security domain graduate programs are not the norm; rather, the exception.

Nevertheless, the notion of graduate programs within the security domain is not a completely alien proposition. For many years, large engineering consultancies have employed graduates from various security programs. Such organisations put graduates through a developmental program tailored to the context of their areas of focus and method of business. Graduate programs are also found in government organisations, which recruit graduates from a diverse range of university programs including security studies.

In the intelligence domain the graduate developmental process has been referred to as the journeyman, the term used to articulate the formalised process used to take a graduate from university and develop them into a competent professional. This journey embodies a systemised process with clear time frames along with formalised criteria established to move graduates along their professional path, initiating junior professionals.

Consequently, outside of these sectors there are very few opportunities for graduate employment and further development in the security profession. That is, the graduate process is not the cultural norm for many organisations and in particular, its security group. For many in the security domain, the competitive aspects means that employers prefer experienced personnel rather than developing graduates for junior management roles. However, graduates offer unique skills that over the medium period will enhance the outcomes of the organisation often well beyond that of persons without such an education.

Consequently, for organisations in the corporate security, loss prevention and risk management occupational streams there are many benefits in hiring graduates. Graduates learn core underpinning domain knowledge at university that is braced by broader academic attributes such as critical thinking and research, with analysis and problem solving skills. They also leave university with the latest research-informed knowledge, and they are often innovative and motivated to achieve excellent results. This is a person who holds an abstract body of knowledge that can be tailored to solve professional problems in innovative ways.

If the notion of the security professional is to be formally acknowledged and well-recognised by other professionals, then the security profession must establish a culture of graduate employment and development. Therefore, corporate and private security groups must embrace the notion of the journeyman. Culturally within the security domain there has to be the formal recognition of graduates and the requirement to offer programs for their development if the industry is to professionalize.

The security discipline is professionalising, but its journey remains long and with many perplexing issues to be addressed. One of these issues is the entry of graduates into the security workforce. Until senior managers within the security domain recognise the value of graduates and actively put in place programs for their recruitment and development, security at the senior end of the operational stratum will not be accepted as a true profession in the group phenomenon. Only once this occurs, as a cultural norm, will another barrier to security professionalisation be overcome.