Getting A Job In The Uk Security Industry


Getting a Job in the UK Security Industry


Security is high on the UK agenda and now, there is virtually no major public or private organisation without a team of dedicated to managing issues of security.  The market is strong, and rapidly expanding.

The real James Bonds not only work for MI6 but also for a drugs or cigarette manufacturer, putting his/her life at risk whilst investigating the sources of dangerous or contraband goods, the real Money Penny does not sit there typing but is putting excellent linguistic skills to effective use when analyzing intelligence data. 

Continuing the James Bond theme, Q, the fabled technohead probably has a PhD in mathematics and is working on algorithms that will help CCTV users or software developers predict suspicious behavior.  The chief, identified by Ian Fleming as  Q, is probably the most closely identified character, who will work from office, around the world, co-ordinating effort, supporting corporate decisions and working with business leaders throughout their territory.

The UK security profession is exciting, expanding and effective and there are a variety of careers to be had.

A variety of careers in security

The in-house security team within every business – described above, is just one part of the industry. There is also an entire sector devoted to providing business-to business-security solutions. And security professionals can be involved in providing crime awareness advice, working to reduce vandalism on urban estates, monitoring behavior on our streets or protecting buildings for clients who contract their services.

Another end of the profession is dedicated to selling, installing or manufacturing the latest digital security technologies. 

How big is the security sector?

Official figures state that some 143,800 people were employed in the investigation and security-related industry in the UK in 2004 (industry experts claim that this has been expanding by three per cent per annum). 

Other estimates put the figure at 500,000 people employed in the UK private security industry (with up to 350,000 employed in its vertical strand and some 150,000 in the horizontal strand that overlaps with other sectors). No matter which figure you accept, compared to the number of police officers in England and Wales, only 150,000, the private security sector is substantial.

Whereabouts in the UK is the security industry?

The UK Security Industry is very heavily concentrated in the southeast of England.

Here are the figures worked out by Paul Osborne from Cranfield University, who mapped the regional distribution of the UK Security Industry in 2006.

People employed in security guard and related occupations (percentage of sector in brackets):

London:                      26,500             (18.4%)

Midlands:                   23,300             (16.2%)

South East:                23,200             (16.1%)

Northern Ireland:         3,300             (2.3%)

North East:                 3,800             (2.6%)

Wales:                        5,100             (3.5%).

His security industry database was categorised into seven sub-sectors:

·                    Access Control

·                    Alarm Systems

·                    Biometrics

·                    CCTV

·                    Information Security

·                    Sensor Technology

·                    Systems.

The analysis shows a concentration of security sector organisations in the South East followed by London.  It reflects the general picture of employment opportunities throughout the UK.

Who works in security?

The sector is truly diverse in its employment practices. Non-EU applicants seldom suffer from discrimination beyond the basic language issues.  Equally, the sector is increasingly well represented by women at a senior level (figures range from between 7 per cent and 18 per cent of senior roles being held by women).


The security industry as a whole is understood to involve long working hours. In 1993 it was calculated that security managers worked on average 50 hours per week. In 2007 the figure has reduced to 46.3 hours per week. 

Front line staff are facing less pressure to work longer hours , this is in part due to the gradual implication of the working time directive (being stipulated by end users to their contracted companies) and through compettive pressure from some firms, such as Wilson James, who haev been pioneering best practice.  However trade unions (such as the GMB and UNITE who are becoming increasingly more present in the sector) are quick to point out that many workers choose to opt out of the working time restrctions to improve their living standards.  Either way, choice is begining to be an option.


Benefits offered to staff relate to the organisations ability to pay.  Larger organisations tend to offer broader benefits but with lower basic remuneration whilst smaller firms compete with higher pay and less benefits.

Consequently, there’s a wide choice of employer and benefits packages for job-hunters. 

Jobs available

In 2008 the UK is facing the highest employment figures for decades, leading to almost chronic understaffing in junior and supervisory roles, making the UK very attractive to immigrant labour. This pressure can be expected to resume once the current economic environment improves.   The question is when?

Professional body

The major industry professional body is the British Security Industry Association who claim that their members provide over 70 per cent of UK security products and services and adhere to strict quality standards.  As such, they are a credible source of reference.

Is there a job for you in the UK security industry?

Traditionally, security staff are in their second career, drawn from either ex-police or ex-armed forces, with little or no academic security background.

Does it matter what age you are?

Until recently, security departments were structured similarly to uniformed services, this method of operation being brought over from the services as cultural baggage. The knock on effect from this was that ‘security’ was perceived as being there to stop staff and act as policemen, rather than taking a proactive stance and delivering business benefits. An upside of this tradition is that middle age is not seen as a barrier – older people do begin a job in the security industry without prejudice.

Management roles and professional development

In recent decades, there has been a marked expansion in the field of security management with security now being viewed as a critical part of most organisations.

With the expansion of security into a major aspect of commercial business the role of the head of security is now viewed by as a management function that is subject to organisations’ quality and value for money drives.

According to research (Sennewald 2003 et al), to be a security professional the modern security manager must:

·        be a leader

·        have a broad profile with high visibility within their organisation

·        be a contemporary professional and an innovator

·        act as a counsellor, trainer and advisor

·        and of course, are a goal setter and strategic planner”.

This has required the security function to embrace general management theory and apply it to their practices instead of delivering reactive policing.

Career structure in management roles

This demand has lead to growing numbers of security managers being employed and in receipt of professional development and a career structure is slowly evolving. 

The advent of a career structure is attractive to those starting out in their careers (rather than embarking on second careers) or for those using the security function as a stepping stone to other corporate roles.

Management salaries

With a career structure that is relatively broad and still becoming established, salary bands currently range from security supervisors c£18,000 to corporate heads c£125,000.   

A recent survey of security managers (Seevaratnam 2007) identified the most sought after traits in managers (in order):

·        personal integrity

·        concern for staff/others

·        general security competence

·        ability to persuade others

·        understanding of employers business

Technical jobs

Technical security roles do not attract the same kids of pay rises found in many engineering sectors and the industry now recognises the adverse impact that low wages are having on attracting good staff.

A few of the larger alarm installation firms are restarting apprenticeship schemes (with bonuses and a professional development regimes) designed to attract new recruits into the profession. 

Finding work in the UK security sector

Access to work is relatively simple in the UK, with the majority of all roles open to direct or indirect applications. 

Direct applications are those that are either unsolictited (e.g. sending your CV to prospective employers in the hope of a role becoming available) or through gaining support for your application (perhaps via networking at professional organisations such as the Guild of Security professionals). 

Indirect applications are those who apply in repsonse to advertisements (.e.g found in the print media or security job boards) as well as those applying through through recruitment firms. (Note that under legislation, the work finding services of recruitment firms in the UK is free).

Criminal records and screening

Despite published statements saying ex-cons have equality of opportunity, applicants with criminal convictions (spent or not) are not treated equally and those without a conviction are seen as being more attractive to employers. 

The industry carries our routine screening of all applicants, throughout their career and for some roles this includes screening for drugs and alcohol.

Who needs a licence and how to get one

Many front line staff, such as security guards working for contract firms, CCTV operatives and their supervisors or managers, require an SIA licence.  The SIA is slowly rolling out a programme that will widen the scope for people who require a licence.

Academic requirements

Lack of academic qualifications has not traditionally been seen as a barrier to entry, with skill  and attributes being the primary criteria.  More recent developments indicate that employers are looking for applicants with an ability and desire to qualify at an appropriate level (and the introduction of licensing has set a very minimum standard for some front line staff). 

This has led to a burgeoning of qualifications from NVQs to highly specialised Doctorates, all of which are available through further or higher education (with funding often available through the employers).

Moving to the UK from abroad

Nationals of the EU or the EEA are generally free to take up residence in the UK without prior immigration formalities (certain limitations do apply to some citizens from the new EU member states). 

New immigration rules

Under the new UK immigration rules introduced in February 2008, there are significant ongoing changes impacting those wishing to come and work the UK. The new rules are designed to simplify the routes of entry by whittling them down from over 80 entry types to just five tiers:

·        highly skilled individuals

·        skilled workers with a job offer

·        low skilled workers to fill specific temporary labour shortages

·        students

·        youth mobility and temporary workers.

The detailed requirement for these is being drawn up at the time of writing and will be published by The Borders and Immigration Agency.  In the meantime the old system remains in part and obsolete in others, so checking the BIA web site is essential.  If you don’t have the necessary paperwork, be prepared for a long wait at your point of entry! 

Non-EU nationals

For those non-EU nationals entering the UK permanently, expect to be required to prove that you have a standard of English (entry level 3) or to sit a computer based test answering a range of question such as “Where are Geordie, Cockney and Scouse dialects spoken,” to gain this knowledge you have to purchase the book 'Life in the United Kingdom' available from all leading bookstores.  

At the point of entry, immigrant officers have the power to require any immigrant to undertake further health screening.  However, in practice, this is normally only applied to those intending to stay for over six months (who will be required to provide acceptable evidence that they are free of tuberculosis) and may, if the entry officer suspects the presence of an infectious condition, be directed to undertake further health screening.

Employers in the UK are under a lot of government pressure to ensure that you have all of the right paperwork before you start work and they are required to check this annually. It is normal for all job seekers to be asked to prove their right of abode and right to work, many times in the job seeking process.

Finding somewhere to live

Whilst London is an expensive city in which to live, the rest of the UK is reasonably priced for anyone with combined earnings over £30,000. Less than this and finding long-term accommodation can be both difficult and time consuming. 

Many estate agents provide a free letting service for people looking for somewhere to live and the larger chains provide access to networks of agents through the UK.  Expect to pay at least two months in advance and sometimes more.  Regardless of buying or renting, you will be expected to provide proof of your identity, ability to pay and anti-money laundry or background checks.

Cost of living in the UK

The cost of living in the UK is stable, though far from cheap.  Prices are pretty standard throughout the UK and bartering in the major stores and outlets is not expected – but a good deal can be secured if you shop around!

After a good meal, it is normal to tip 10 per cent (many restaurant staff only earn if you tip) but bar staff and shop keepers do not expect anything.

Anyone who lives near a major town and has a basic (entry level 2) grasp of English can access a plethora of home delivery services which include everything from shopping, fast food and even televisions.  Those living outside of the major centres have a more sedentary life and expect to wait or travel further for luxuries.

Health service

The UK National Health Services is highly regulated but provides a free service at hospitals for all emergencies (although a post-incident charging system exists for people unable to prove they are eligible EU nationals and for some incidents that involve insurance claims).  There are a number of excellent private hospitals, GP and dental practices scattered across the major cities in the UK and a free NHS online help line is available for anyone. 

Crime in the UK

Reading any newspaper or sitting in the pubs and bars you would think that Great Britain is in the midst of a crime wave, whereas the truth is you are safer in the UK now than in over two hundred years.  However, it’s sensible to take reasonable steps to protect yourself and your property.  If you do suffer from a crime, then reporting to the police will involve a visit to the local station, which can take a lot of time.


Much of the UK has excellent mobile and internet connectivity, although access does depend on the provider and if you are buying a mobile phone, check coverage before you choose your provider.  This can make a real difference when calling internationally, downloading data or just trying to speak to friends when you are in the beautiful hills of Wales and your friends are in London.

UK culture

You will find queuing is a national past time that smooths the way the UK functions.  Expect to queue to enter theatres, board busses and even in traffic. Whilst you are unlikely to be ejected for barging in, the hostility will be felt if not seen or heard.  However, whilst whether you give up your seat for a woman is open to debate, other customs are unwritten and breaches are likely to go unremarked except when you are absent, to pass comment is often seen as ill-mannered! Always offer your seat to elderly people, expectant mothers or people with small children.

There is no written constitution in the UK and the legal rules are abided by in practice by most people.  The UK laws are often conflicting, which in part, is attributable to the fact that they are derived from three main sources:

1.      Unlike many continental European states, the UK's legal system is principally based uponcommon law. The common law system includes the law of contract which governs the employment relationship and enforcement of the employment contract. England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have separate legal jurisdictions and systems, however the contract law of each country is similar in most respects.

2.      The UK does not have a civil law code but instead a plethora of statutes and regulations that govern most aspects of the employment relationship.  Except in very limited circumstances, it is not possible for parties to contract out of the statutory protection rights. In some cases, the legislation is supported by Codes of Practice (that have no direct legal effect but are taken into account by Courts and the highly specialist Employment Tribunals).

3.      The UK Government is also required to interpret employment legislation passed under the EC Treaty and judgments of the European Court of Justice, which it does through statutes and regulations.

The big players in the UK security industry

Estimates put the total number of professional security managers at between 10,000 and 18,000.  These can be found in almost all of the FTSE 500 organisations, local government, hospitals and many of the larger charities.   In each, the security function will differ in scope and size.  

Some of these profession are autonomus (reporting to the CEO or Board) wheras others report into other functions (such as finance or facilities).   The size and remit of the role will almost certainly be dictated by; the nature of the operations conducted (e.g. the needs of a manufacturing site will differ from those of a bank or heritage building), the number of people involved (e.g. employees, or on-line customers), the point of contact or transaction (e.g. one office or many branches throughout regions).  As such, a the security manager may be found in all aspects of life.

Guarding sector

The four big firms are:

·        G4S (£360M turnover)

·        MITIE (£250m)

·        Reliance (£250m)

·        Chubb (£210m). 

Other companies, like Interserve have large portfolios of security services (c £70m on guarding) andOCS whose turnover is c£674m (of which some £80m is derived from protective services). These and others provide contracted solutions into other sectors (which means increased opportunities to develop varied careers).

Technical firms

A major restructuring and merger period has resulted in a good deal of consolidation amongst the manufacturers and distributors of CCTV and other security systems. The largest employer in the electronic security industry is arguably ADT (an international conglomeration that, at the time of writing, is downsizing their management structure) and the technology giant Siemens.  Other major employers, ChubbInitial and Reliance Hi-Tech appear to be focusing on key areas rather than restructuring.