Recruiting and Retaining Campus Security Officers During the ‘Great Resignation’

Appropriate wages and training are just some of the ways hospitals, schools, and universities can attract and keep security officers.
Published: January 27, 2023

The “Great Resignation,” an economic trend that began in early 2021 in the wake of the pandemic, has seen a record number of U.S. workers voluntarily resign from their jobs, even as a global recession potentially looms. About 3.7 million workers voluntarily left their employment in October 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)’s U.S. Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS).

Despite the economic challenges of a potential recession, the demand for highly trained security personnel is unwavering and is notably urgent across the K-12, higher education, and healthcare sectors in the United States. Adverse events surrounding gun violence and other security concerns drive the need for attracting and hiring high quality security professionals.

K-12 Campuses: Security Officers Protect and Nurture Students, Visitors, Staff

Consider how safety concerns are cited as a driver for teachers leaving schools in droves.

At least 300,000 public school teachers and other staff left the K-12 industry between February 2022 and May 2022 reports The Wall Street Journal with safety cited as a predominant concern. In 2021, there were 249 shootings at schools, compared with 17 in 1981, according to a database at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security. These numbers include mass shootings as well as other shooting incidents.

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When contracting security officers to serve as K-12 campus security or resource officers, it is important that fundamentals combined with customized and district-wide school security solutions are designed to be student-centric while remaining sensitive to the school environment.

Security must stay up-to-date with rules, regulations, and federal laws such as Title IX and FERPA.  Security officers who serve schools should have specialized skills, and extra care is needed to ensure that the unique needs of the campus are met. There is “no one-size-fits-all” in K-12 security officer hiring. A mature professional who understands or can be trained on how to work with and influence children while gaining their respect, is a coveted hire.

Higher Education: Enhancing the Institution’s Brand While Providing Peace of Mind

It’s no surprise that horrific acts by active assailants on college campuses generate national headlines. While these events are rare, virtually every college and university will encounter them at some point.

The Department of Homeland Security is engaging administrators, faculty members, students, parents, and other stakeholders across K-12 school and college university communities, as well as law enforcement and other first responders who serve those communities, to raise awareness and communicate best practices. They also offer a wealth of resources that are available online.

In addition to violent incidents, at colleges and universities where contract security may act as or supplement campus police or partner with local police, security professionals must respond to a wide range of safety and security concerns, including theft, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual assault, domestic or dating violence, racially or gender motivated violence, and stalking. The Clery Center, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping college and university officials meet the standards of the Jeanne Clery Act, provides guidance to security professionals with the training and resources needed to understand compliance requirements.

When contracting security to serve in higher education environments, consider companies that partner with organizations such as the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), an organization that presents resources and information for public safety, including best practices. Also, it’s wise for colleges to partner with companies that have access to elevated technology for sophisticated business intelligence and artificial intelligence (AI) workforce management tools.

For example, multi-modal communication to students and faculty during an emergency keeps the campus community as safe as possible. Timely warnings of significant crimes that have occurred and may continue to pose a threat, as well as emergency notifications in advance of a potential or reasonably foreseeable threat to a campus, are mandated through the Clery Act.

These warnings need to include credible information that can be used to prompt immediate student and employee action in response to the event. Broadcasting these warnings and informative directions to large populations on a campus is challenging and requires many different simultaneous methods including sirens, loudspeakers, email, text messaging, social networking tools, and word of mouth.

These multi-modal communication tools aid in minimizing tragedies and are life savers during natural and man-made disasters. Hence, it’s important to ensure that the higher education security program intelligently integrates business intelligence into the program.

For smaller four-year and community college institutions, law enforcement may be limited to the municipal resources available within the community. Consequently, higher education security officers provide necessary customer service by conducting safety and security procedures, developing site-specific policies and, when needed, responding to emergencies. They conduct regular and random patrols around the campus and perimeter, interface with the campus community and monitor access control technology.

Students and faculty look to campus security to respond to incidents and critical situations in a calm, problem-solving manner. In most cases, larger universities have created expansive public safety departments that include sworn law enforcement officers, security technicians, analysts, and security officers. With law enforcement professionals being in such high demand, public safety departments are relying on security officers to fulfill non-policing functions.

When hiring armed-or-unarmed campus security personnel, it is important to recruit individuals who understand and respect that today’s college environment and brand demand that every officer understands the impact of Title IX. At institutions that receive federal funding, Title IX provides protective services to those who have suffered sex discrimination, harassment, or abuse and disciplines those who perpetrate these acts. Skill sets that ensure a high appreciation of diversity, equity and inclusion are essential for officers. Campus security must understand how to effectively and compassionately interface with young adults and must be well-versed in contemporary trauma and bias-informed response techniques.

Security firms should provide a variety of vital training, including Clery Act, Title IX, and Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) awareness training, residential life security, dealing with high-risk situations, young adult behavior, drug and alcohol education, CPR/First Aid/AED training, campus crime prevention, campus emergency preparedness, evacuation planning, as well as fire safety and campus escort services. This exhaustive list of responsibilities highlights the need for college campuses to hire security professionals with skills and experience beyond those of a traditional security guard. The right person, with the right mindset, and the right training and support can make all the difference in providing proactive, capable, and engaging interaction and support we each expect within today’s campus communities.

Healthcare: Security’s Role to Ensure ‘First Do No Harm’

While workplace violence is increasingly common across all business sectors, the rate of violence toward healthcare workers is alarming. Healthcare workers account for approximately 50% of all victims of workplace violence according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

The 2018 American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) survey of 3500+ emergency department physicians found that 71% reported witnessing an assault, 47% of physicians reported being physically assaulted themselves and 97% of physicians stated the main source of these assaults came from patients.

These physical and verbal acts of aggression can have a significant effect on the healthcare worker’s ability to care for patients, with some workers ending their career due to experiencing post-traumatic stress disorders.

Healthcare security officers are responsible for the surveillance of the healthcare premises and the protection of the staff, patients, and visitors. They detect and prevent suspicious activity, observe and report incidents, and provide customer service in a friendly and professional manner. They observe and remain vigilant for signs of crime, disorder, hazards, and unusual activity. They verbally and physically de-escalate events when needed. They inspect security devices and fire control equipment, and screen members, visitors, and employees to expedite admittance to the facility. They respond to incidents of fire, medical emergency, bomb threat, flooding, water discharge, elevator emergency, hazardous materials, or inclement weather with calm urgency. They may also be called upon for patient watch, patient escort, provide safety reports, and assist or transport deceased individuals to the morgue.

Unless it is the maternity wing, very few people, whether patient or visitor, are going to the hospital for pleasant reasons. Hospital security personnel require the skills and innate compassion to serve the challenges of this highly charged and emotional environment. Security officers in healthcare require the specific training and skillset to go from de-escalating a potentially violent situation in the emergency department or behavioral health unit to guiding a lost visitor to their destination.

Wages Should Benefits Should Be Commensurate with Responsibilities

It is especially important to ensure that the security professionals’ wages and benefits are commensurate with their responsibilities, especially in a tight labor market like we are currently experiencing. Security personnel are not revenue generators for the sectors they service. Consequently, some organizations will, at their own peril, seek to retain security services for the lowest cost possible, which puts them at risk of not hiring the most qualified talent. The skills and experiences required to fulfill the unique responsibilities outlined above suggest that security professionals being hired for these positions should be compensated at a higher level than those of a traditional security officer.

Equally important, effective supervision and management of security personnel is crucial. Ensuring the appropriate ratio of supervisors to personnel is necessary so that the security officer can be effectively led and coached. Opportunities in the security sector are endless, but without a supervisor who can nurture that talent, the road to new opportunities will not be found.

Push Aside ‘Want Ads’ – Artificial Intelligence Is Here

Gone are the days when security companies ran traditional print ads to recruit personnel. To find the best candidates, it is important to align with a company that has invested in technology platforms that more effectively recruit, screen, and integrate with applicant tracking systems.  Some have even gone as far as incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) to prescreen candidates on their skills and qualifications. By using AI efficiently, recruiters have the time to focus on the interviews rather than the administrative paperwork.

In today’s ultra-competitive talent acquisition market, speed and efficiency will continue to drive a security company’s ability to effectively engage with, screen, and assign candidates into roles that maximize their talents, skills, and abilities in support of the communities they serve. Not every candidate who comes to the door is a good fit for a campus or healthcare security role…and that’s ok. Be wary of companies who, by their words or actions, try to make you think that’s not the case.

Train, Train, Train

To maximize the investment we have made in finding the right people, we must ensure the onboarding experience and training is thorough and complete for security professionals. When an employee is not professionally trained, not only do we risk them making a critical mistake, but they may also not feel comfortable in the position and consequently may choose to leave and find something more familiar.

Engaging a security provider that specializes in K-12, higher education, and healthcare, that trains their staff on the specific challenges and reporting regulations of their sector and remains engaged in the wider thought leadership conversation informing ongoing training is the best choice. Experienced companies understand how their staff can create a strategy for the best possible security solutions to prevent and address both the foreseen and unforeseen.

Thomas Walton is Senior Vice President, Vertical Markets at Allied Universal, a leading security and facility services company with 800,000 employees and revenues of approximately $20 billion. He can be reached at:

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Strategy & Planning Series