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S1E13 – In the 13th episode we talk to Simon Pears, Chair of the International Professional Security Association (IPSA). Simon is implementing a plan that could potentially provide IPSA with key data about the treatment of frontline security personnel around the world. So why is this important, and if successful, how might this data inform policy and practice related to the private security sector and human rights across different jurisdictions?


This podcast was originally published July 14, 2021

Welcome to today’s podcast, the 13th in ICoCA’s series Future Security Trends Implications for Human Rights. I’m Chris Galvin, and today I’ll be in conversation with Simon Pearce, chairman of the International Professional Security Association, otherwise known as IPSA. The subject is understanding the private security sector, and how data can inform and professionalize the industry. So, Simon, can you tell us about IPSA? What’s your mission?

So, the IPSA mission aims to foster and encourage ethical and professional standards of work and conduct for those people that are working within the frontline security sector. Our aim is to kind of promote the essential roles that the frontline people play to the wider industry and government departments and to make sure that all frontline personnel are respected and encouraged to have a life-long career in the security sector. And we want to, in conjunction with that, ensure that appropriate training programs, mentoring, and support are accessible to those on the frontline in order to upskill them and their teams with the evolving needs of the security industry. So one of the areas that we are really kind of focusing on is to try and have one voice for the security industry. So again, going back to our core principles of representing all frontline personnel and companies that promote diversity, inclusion, training, mentoring, and most importantly career development through the representation that we’re trying to kind of create and support by working with those security companies and those industries that interact with security, that we can raise the professionalism and standards and that we can then create that one voice within security.

And I mean one voice. Why one voice?

There is a lot of fragmentation, there are a lot of security industries, security associations when we’re trying to liaise with government or when we’re trying to liaise with key stakeholders, we need to be kind of consistent in our approach. Now, there is a great umbrella organization, the Security Commonwealth, that tries to bring in all the associations to have that one voice. But what we’re trying to do at IPSA is to capture the frontline, and we genuinely believe the frontline are almost kind of the forgotten line. Because everybody is concentrating on security management, security directors, and security careers at that very high academic level. But it’s the guards on the ground that are faced with the daily challenges, faced with the conditions. And I’m not too sure that we really have that much of a handle on really what they face. I mean, one of the things that we’ve done in IPSA is we’ve got a Frontline chairman on our board who is responsible for chairing what we call the frontline forum. And we’ve always made it a very crucial part of our journey that we as directors, we can direct and we can guide and coach. But actually, it’s hearing it from the frontline, which is the most critical part. And so, we do have a frontline security officer on our board that attends every board meeting that kind of keeps us on the straight and narrow and keeps us real to the impacts and the events that affect them. So, when I come back to the one voice, I don’t think the industry at the moment has one voice because it caters really for the management. What we’re saying is security as a whole is the frontline and it’s the management, but we are trying to capture the mood and the importance of the frontline personnel. And everything that we do, and for myself as chair, one of the challenges that I have with all the directors in IPSA is every single thing we do we should only be doing if it’s going to bring value ultimately to the frontline guard, frontline officer or frontline personnel.

Now, you mentioned that those frontline personnel are forgotten often. Why do you think that is and why do you think more generally the private security sector might perhaps be misunderstood in terms of what those folks on the frontline role do, what they experience in their day-to-day work?

There are a couple of sides to this. One is I don’t think and I think it’s been well documented that the industry as a whole is not good at communicating or contextualizing what a security officer or a security guard does. And I say that as I’m not too sure that any of us really know on a daily basis what does that guard have to go through? Do they have to walk five miles to work? Do they then have to do a 12-hour shift or more in the cold, or the wind, or the rain? Do they really understand that they are quite often, possibly the emergency first responders that they have to deal with the dust and the dirt, they have to deal at times with the abuse, they have to deal with at times with the lack of respect? They’re expected to be responding to everything, expected to deal with everything and yet they’re the first to kind of get criticized when things don’t go right. So, it is about trying to explain and articulate what these men and women do every single day to do the best job they can in sometimes unforgiving kind of circumstances and environments. At the same time, the industry is not willing to pay kind of huge amounts for their services, yet they want this service of a kind of a platinum service but don’t want to pay platinum pricing to ensure that that security person has a good quality of life.

And when you say they don’t want to, what we’re talking about here is the clients, right? It’s not the employers of the security personnel themselves.


No, absolutely. And sometimes in any security contract, you have a number of stakeholders. So, you will have your clients, but also our clients also sometimes governance is dictated by procurement functions and procurement teams. So, quite often we find that the procurement teams that have drilled down the cost to such a level that then we struggle or the industry struggles to provide our clients and their colleagues with a very credible and professional service. And we’ve got to get security out of this part where it’s a game to people to try and score points to get it to the lowest price. Because it’s having an impact on the competency, it’s having an impact on the motivation and it’s having an impact on the longevity of both the personnel and the security contracts. And what we’re saying is people need to be paid a fair rate to be able to have a fair standard of living, to be able to support their family, but also for us and for them to provide credible security to ultimately our end clients on the ground.

Now, one thing that we are challenged with in our work is that there is a fair amount of opacity in the sector. There’s not a lot of data out there about, some of these issues, how much security officers are paid, for example. So, what are the challenges in collecting data and what strategy is IPSA employing to overcome this?

We’ve just developed an app that we’ve just launched in the UK three months ago and we’re in the process of getting the authorization to roll that out into the other countries. And that app which is free for the frontline teams enables us to capture as part of the signing up process through the anonymized data collection as well. People can declare kind of their rates of pay within bandings and some of the other benefits that they get or don’t get. That’s going to be for the first time to allow us to start kind of capturing the width and the breadth of the pay bandings so that we can start coming back to what we want it to be this kind of one voice of the security industry to start communicating whether it’s kind of above minimum levels, below minimum levels, above kind of what is a fair rate or not. And it’s the first time that we’re going to be able to kind of start having this data across not just the licensed sector, but also the unlicensed sector because in a number of countries, there is in-house teams that are not generally captured within licensable activities.

So, through the app, when people join up, we are capturing key data, the qualifications if they have any, their pay bandings, if they want to disclose that, and then through the app as well. We’re also kind of capturing mental health moods, whether people are having a good day or a bad day. And what’s causing that, is that personal? Is that work? Is that healthy? And again, that’s through anonymized data and incidents. Again, not taking away from what people are reporting to the police. But we know that there are tens of thousands of incidents every single day around the world that security guards face that do not report to the police for one reason or another, whether that security officer is getting abused, whether that’s them getting spat at, whether that’s getting them pushed or shoved. And so, again, we’re trying to collect in some of this data so that we can start representing some of the issues that the frontline teams face. And it’s only then when we have that data, we can have that voice and then we can start influencing and then we can start changing kind of mindset. So our starting point is to grow the membership, encourage the app usage, get the data from the app, and then once we have that data from the app, then we can start becoming more vocal with what the app data is telling us.

You’ve mentioned quite a number of challenges that security personnel face in their work day in, and day out. Is the app focusing on these as well? Do you expect it to inform our understanding of what some of these challenges are? And are there any other challenges? You’ve not mentioned that you think are worthy of bringing up.

I mean, the starting point was to try and capture those people that are operating in security because again, it’s a very fragmented market and we’re not too sure. Well, we don’t believe any kind of organization at the moment has true visibility. So what we are then kind of focusing on is mental health pay incidents. And within the incidents, we then break it down to I think there’s maybe 15 categories, whether that is from racial, from diversity, from harassment, from bullying, maybe it’s the press and the media behaviours, it could be clients’ behaviours. But the important thing was though, for us to make sure that element was anonymized because we could only kind of get the true data or get a good indication of the data. If people feel safe and confident it’s not going to come back on them. Now, as a kind of an example, if people report that they’re having a bad day for three days in a row, then it automatically will signpost them towards charities that can maybe help them. So, we’re in the kind of a fine line of we’re not a counseling organizations and we don’t have the skills to be a counseling organization. But what we can do is we can signpost these people to organizations where that expertise can help them because the frontline, you’ve got people that are in the frontline because that’s what they’ve wanted, although that’s the minority, because we want people, we want to start people wanting to have a career in security. But there’s also those people that are in security because they were previously in the military or they were previously in the police. So, you’ve got a wide spectrum of experience and life experiences within the security sector. And I think in some of our more developing markets, we’re trying to again embrace to say if you’re part of security, you should be proud of working in security. It’s not a low-skilled job. It shouldn’t be a low-paid job. You are as an individual responsible for the safety and the welfare of the environment that you’re looking after, and that needs to be respected and recognised. But at the same time, we need to understand that those problems that they’re facing and I think the app is a starting point. Is the app going to solve everything? Absolutely not. But what it will do, it will start giving us for the first time some credible information so that we can have constructive discussions and raise awareness and debate within the industry. And that’s something that hasn’t really happened before.

It’s a fascinating approach because I think traditionally people look at the sector and they think about the kind of human rights violations that security personnel themselves may commit in the communities where they’re working, whereas you’re kind of turning the tables here and you’re considering the welfare of those security personnel themselves. And I’m just thinking, especially thinking of the international context, where is the alignment perhaps between what IPSA are doing and what ICoCA are about, which is not just the welfare of communities where private security personnel operate, but of course about the welfare of those personnel as well. Where is the alignment and are there avenues for collaboration that might be worth exploring?

To give respect, you’ve got to kind of get respect. And so, the starting point is these frontline teams need to be given respect. Once we have the respect and we treat them as proper human beings on a proper defined career path, then it’s about educating, coaching, and guidance. No one comes into security knowing everything from day one. And again, as an industry, we need to be more focused on that coaching element. And it’s about the coaching about, how to behave, how to react. Admittedly, a lot of those skills are not there because we haven’t invested. And why haven’t we invested is because the clients are not paying what is a fair price or that we’re not seeing the importance of that level of guidance and coaching. We are just working in collaboration with the National Union of Journalists as a first project to really start embracing how journalists and the media are treated by security personnel. But at the same time, it’s a mutual learning because do security personnel treat media with respect at all times? No. At the same time, does the media treat the security personnel with respect at all times? No. So there has to be an acceptance on both sides that it’s not right. And then it’s about what we do with it. And again, the National Union of Journalists, the NUJ, being very open and we are collaboratively writing guidelines. We’re going to have some joint workshops. We’re going to get security guards and journalists in the room, and we’re going to kind of thrash out what are the frustrations, what causes that friction to happen. And it’s about understanding each other’s job roles, both the security and the media have jobs to do, and it’s about how they can do them together to kind of in harmony.

I think there are lots of potential kind of collaboratory kind of events that IPSA and ICoCA could do. I think our kind of ethos is very similar. Yours is to kind of raise private security industry standards and practices, kind of align to human rights. And IPSA again, is about to kind of foster and encourage the ethical and professional standard of work and conduct. They’re very similar and again, I see them very much aligned. For me, the professional association and the professional perception of ICoCA is hugely valuable around the world and I think with IPSA and ICoCA sharing and working together on future projects can only be good for the frontline. And that’s always my challenge, is everything I do, can I see it feeding back to benefiting the frontline? And I can, when I look at this in isolation, I can say absolutely. ICoCA’s vision is this, the IPSA vision is that. And can the discussions that we have ultimately benefit the frontline through the sharing of data, through the raising of the profiles for the podcasts, for the debates? Absolutely. But we’ve got to make sure that the end goal is that the standards raise for the frontline on the ground.

ICoCA is an international organization, as is yours. My understanding is that the apps have been launched in the UK. The National Union of Journalists, I presume is a UK organisation. But can you tell us a little bit more about the kind of strategy for internationalisation, how you plan to roll IPSA out around the world?

So currently we have memberships. We have individual kinds of memberships across Nigeria, in China, in Hong Kong, in the US, in South America, in South Africa. So, we have an increasing individual membership base. We have submitted all the app requirements to the relevant country app stores. So India, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Europe, as you’ve already alluded to, and some of the APAC countries. So, they are all now sitting with Google and Apple respectively. And once they have been approved, then we will be launching in those countries. And to support that, we have IPSA ambassadors lined up in some of those countries to kind of spearhead the engagement and the penetration of the app. Because what we’re saying is that to get the information that we need, it needs to be app-driven. We have an IPSA ambassador as an example, lined up in India. Once we get that approval, then we’ll do the necessary communication to link in with the regional security associations, the guarding providers, to start that communication journey. But we are very much now just in the hands of the app stores just waiting for those approvals, which I think we are generally just weeks away and then it will target it in those countries where we believe that we can get the biggest benefit. And again, that’s where I think we will then call upon maybe some of the expertise within ICoCA to help us and guide that as well, so that we can choose those countries with a degree of certainty of success.



The views and opinions presented in this article belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the stance of the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA).