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Security in an ageing world

When talking about the future of security it’s easy to focus on emerging technologies and threats, but the biggest influencer will be society itself, as David Ward of Ward Security explains further

Whatever your profession or field of expertise, it’s always an advantage to be able to recognise future trends before they happen. In this way you can at the very least be prepared, and at best can lead the field when it comes to innovating and taking advantage of any opportunities presented. But how do you predict the future? And what do we already know about tomorrow?

One certainty is that we are getting older as a society. Last year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned that within the next 15 years, 24 countries – including the UK – will become ‘super-aged’, having more than 21 per cent of the population aged 65 or older.

We are not only getting older as a society, but we are also working longer as we age. According to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions, more than a million people over the age of 65 are currently in work in the UK. It’s been three years since the end of the default retirement age of 65, and the number of people working beyond that age is growing and will continue to grow steadily and substantially. This is a big deal for all industries, including FM and security, as both employees and customers will age. However, many industries have yet to recognise and accept the already happening change, and few have started to prepare themselves or their thinking.

There is also the issue of criminal demographics to consider. As we saw in April 2015 with the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company heist – dubbed the Robbery of the Decade – age is no temper of criminal tendency. This was a story at the more extreme end of the criminal scale, but the reality is that we are seeing more news stories appearing in the media that feature crimes committed by older people – from supermarket theft, to insurance fraud. It is very likely that, as a percentage of overall crime committed, we will see a lot more criminal acts carried out by older people. It’s not that older people will become more criminal by nature, rather that the numbers of crimes they commit will increase as a percentage of the whole to reflect the growing numbers of over 65s. Older people may not be as capable of committing physical crime, but financial crime, theft and fraud are not as dependent on youth and fitness.

What this means for the security industry is a need for more awareness and not to be fooled into assuming an older person is innocent by default; as a society we have been conditioned to view senior citizens through nostalgic rose tinted spectacles. But of course vigilance in this respect will require a degree of sensitivity, and so diplomacy will become an increasingly valuable skill for the security industry.

However, at the same time, a larger elderly population presents a growing opportunity for criminals to prey on. So just as we need to be mindful of the potential for older people to commit crime, we must also appreciate their vulnerability.

One of the industries currently struggling to cope is the elderly care industry. Following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement of 2015, care home operators are embroiled in the challenge of trying to figure out how they can fund themselves going forward, and many continue to talk in terms of closing their doors. But of course a growing aged population means there will inevitably be a need for a growing care home industry, regardless of how it is funded. We will see more care homes, and bigger care homes springing up across the country.

A recent report from the US suggests that the growing care home market will drive huge growth in security and access control between now and 2020 (as well as other technology solutions for health and monitoring). There will undoubtedly be an increasing role for both the FM and security industries to play in ensuring our elderly in care stay safe and comfortable. With the care industry facing a funding crisis and needing to be as efficient as it can be, the security industry will need to deliver smart and effective solutions to suit. This is not an industry which is cash rich, even with the average cost of residential care at around £30,000 a year. So while there is certainly an opportunity, it is one that needs to be approached with care and consideration.

The security and FM industries themselves need to face the inevitability of an ageing workforce. But of course, as people age, so their capabilities often diminish. The challenge will be to adapt working practices and solutions packages to accommodate.

As employers we in the security industry can also expect to see the average age of applicants rising steadily, while more and more existing employees will look to extend their careers well beyond the age of 65. Are we ready for this? What roles do we have to offer the more mature applicant? How can we support existing staff if they choose to stay with us? What new models of security can we develop to suit an increasingly aged workforce? Do we need to develop new ‘low risk’ security markets and posts that our employees can move into as they age?

It’s going to become harder to attract younger people as they shrink as a percentage of the wider population. This will make them a more valuable commodity to a wide range of competing industries, and that will come with a cost implication as they come to understand and appreciate their own value. Yet at the same time, people who have been with the organisation a long time will become increasingly loyal and will hope their position is one for life, so it makes sense to embrace this for the good of the business.

Some front line staff will become better suited to administration roles as they age, but no organisation can sustain an ever-increasing administrative function, especially when so many are looking for ways to streamline their back office, so there will be a need to develop new ‘soft’ security solutions for front line staff to move into as they age, perhaps in low risk deployments where the main purpose of the role is people management, or increasingly in front-of-house reception roles where age, experience, authority and demeanour is a distinct advantage in client facing situations.

Front-of-house and reception services is a growing area for the security industry and the popularity of these services suggests there may be other ways in which the core offer from security companies can be further augmented with additional people-facing roles.

Technology offers a way to effectively redeploy staff as they get older. As CCTV and monitoring technologies become more ubiquitous, there is an opportunity to offer roles to older staff as controllers, managers, and even installers of systems. These technologies are not reliant on physical fitness and therefore are forgiving of the restrictions that accompany age. Older staff can also be retrained to handle maintenance.

And of course older, more experienced staff with many years’ front line experience are perfectly suited to the roles of consultancy and sales, assessing a client organisation’s requirements and advising of the best and most efficient ways to incorporate security, and then assembling packages to suit and even managing the client account.

iStock_000007895967_Illustration_[Converted]It is clear that the security industry has a lot of thinking to do that will lead to new models of working, and evolving offers to the marketplace. When thinking about the future of security it is easy to think in terms of emerging technologies or emerging threats such as international terrorism and cybercrime, yet these things are already happening, and the industry is already adept at incorporating them in its thinking. There can very little to surprise us with regards technology or threats, and neither will have that much impact on the fundamental form that security takes. Yet an ageing population certainly will force change on the industry. It is unavoidable.

Regardless of what area of facilities management you work in, or what service you offer, this challenge faces us all. It is best that we all recognise it and start thinking of how we adapt.

About Sarah OBeirne

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