Interview with Securindex Italy : CoESS' research on labour shortages in the security services

Alexander Frank, Head of EU Affairs at CoESS, spoke at SFR 2022 - PEOPLE, PROTECTION, PROFIT in Milan, Italy, presenting the “INTEL” research that CoESS is conducting with funding from the European Commission on the labor shortage in security services at EU level. In an interview with Italian magazine Securindex he explains the critical points highlighted by the research and possible solutions.

  1. Securindex: With funding from the European Commission, the Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS) is leading at EU-level the “INTEL” research project on labour shortages in the security services. On the basis of this research, what do you identify as the main causes for labour shortages in security services?

A. Frank: What we see across Europe is that labour shortages in the security services have been a long-term development which is subject to a complex interaction of different drivers of change on the demand and supply side.

First of all, there is growing demand for private security services across Europe. Between 2010 and 2019, the private security industry grew significantly in terms of the number of workers, further diversification of services, and the upscaling of the technical and professional expertise expected and provided.

And this brings us to difficulties on the worker supply side.

We know that the economy is subject to demographic change – although in some countries more than in others. But when we look at private security services, we see across Europe that the current sector workforce has a set of characteristics that poses specific challenges: most workers in the industry are middle-aged, with an older workforce particularly in Eastern Europe. Further, the majority of workers in the industry are male.

Consequent to these developments, the private security industry has been experiencing over the past years a general shortage of labour. And we can add that the COVID-19 pandemic acted as an accelerator of these developments.

2. Securindex: From your point of view, what could be the most appropriate measures to improve this situation?

A. Frank: First, it is important to retain our workers in the face of demographic change. Looking at the change of demand for services, it is important that we have in place re- and upskilling solutions.

Then, we need to attract new workers through attractive working conditions, appealing career pathways and a change of perception of our sector. In this context, it is important to underline that the future is a diverse and inclusive workforce. We need to ask ourselves: how can we welcome a more diverse workforce to our sector, and I mean diversity in all its forms: women, the young and the elderly, LGBTQIA+ workers, staff with migrant backgrounds, people with disabilities, etc.

What we see however from our research is that the lack of attractiveness is a key challenge to address labour shortages across Europe.

This is on the one hand due to the characteristics of our sector which doesn’t provide just any kind of service, but is subject to specific conditions. Private security services are provided 24/7 and come with high responsibility for the security and safety of services and properties that security officers protect. Workers rightly need to go through background checks and licensing procedures before starting their job, but they unfortunately take in many countries still way too much time – time during which we lose applicants.

But importantly, we have to tackle the more systemic challenges to our industry in collaboration with public authorities. Procurement practices that only go for the lowest cost lead to a downward spiral in our sector that challenges its entire sustainability by incentivising service providers that offer bad (and hence cheap) working conditions, including unfair, and in some cases unlawful, competition. This is bad for working conditions in our sector, and bad for reputation, and has to change.

So you see, the problem is complex. What we at European level therefore recommend is a more holistic solution, based on five actions:

First, we have to promote value-based procurement practices and better regulation of the industry that fosters quality and fights unfair competition, in collaboration with clients and public authorities.

Second, we have to endorse as an industry attractiveness and diversity, including initiatives that foster inclusion and promotion of different worker groups such as women, LGBTQI+, disadvantaged younger and elder people, persons with disabilities, etc.

Third, industry associations should engage with public authorities to actively address labour and skills shortages, for example with public employment services and stakeholders in the national training framework.

Fourth point: we should strengthen vocational education and training frameworks in the industry, for example through the establishment of sectoral training centres which offer re-skilling and upskilling pathways.

And last, but not least, we need to better anticipate employment change in order to manage it. Therefore, national frameworks should be established for gathering sectoral skills intelligence and data on the composition of the workforce, as well as workplace practices.

To do all of this, I want to stress that there is only one efficient and effective tool: the collaboration of employers and workers in Social Dialogue. We have seen from our EU-funded “INTEL” project that excellent best practices of joint collaboration between employers organisations and trade unions exist to bring these five recommendations to life and develop different solutions to labour shortages. These solutions will be published in our project study in February 2023

3. Securindex: What should companies do to meet the needs of young people?

A. Frank: In many countries, it is a challenge to retain young people in the sector. Many already quit during their apprenticeships. In some countries there exist therefore targeted initiatives of Social Partners on better accompanying young workers in the sector throughout their trainings, e.g. through mentorships. Then, it is important to promote to young people attractive career pathways for their professional development. Upskilling and modern job profiles are the key words here.

Attractive working conditions that respond to the values of “generation z” are also key. Social Partners should therefore assess how to bring business realities together with the expectations of the young generation. I underline here again the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion – which go together with corporate sustainability and responsibility.

And we need, very importantly, a change of perception of our sector. Digitalisation and the provision of new services, for example in cybersecurity or Artificial Intelligence, can provide an excellent opportunity to better showcase the innovativeness of security services.

This also has to do with creating a bigger understanding of the value of security services for society overall. Private security is an essential service for the functioning of our economy. Security officers therefore have a highly valuable mission, similar to law enforcement. To bring this message again to the frontstage is a responsibility of the industry

4. Securindex: In your opinion, would it be possible or appropriate to think about transnational initiatives?

What we see from our EU-wide study on labour shortages in private security is that indeed, the trends and challenges are quite the same across countries – although some challenges are more prevalent in some countries than in others, for example the aging of the workforce.

Here comes in our European Sectoral Social Dialogue with our Trade Union UNI Europa at EU-level, where we don’t stop at the identification of the problem, but share best practices on how to find sustainable solutions. With this exchange, we can provide excellent value to national members who can get inspired by what is done and works in other countries.

We still believe though that concrete solutions to labour shortages can only be national – because this challenge is very much subject to individual, but important conditions at national level:

To start with, regulation of our sector differs tremendously among countries, due to the diversity of public security frameworks and culture in EU Member States. Training requirements, competencies of companies and workers, public procurement law – all of this differs a lot.

Also, industrial relations are different among countries. Collective bargaining plays a strong role in most Western European countries, particularly in Scandinavia. At the same time, industrial relations in Eastern Europe are traditionally weak.

This is by the way even reflected in EU constitutional law, which for the same reason leaves security and social policies among the competencies of the EU Member States and – importantly – excludes security services from the European single market.

So yes, we can learn a lot from each other at transnational level, get inspired. But solutions in the end have to be national. What works in one country doesn’t necessarily work in another.

5. Do you see it possible to compare with other economic sectors, such as retail and logistics, to find shared solutions?

Collaboration and exchange is always highly valuable, and I believe we can all learn a lot from trends and solutions in other sectors. So having this dialogue is key, as we all face labour and skills shortages. At EU-level for instance, we have a very intense and regular exchange with other sectors on skills and labour shortages which is also supported by the European Commission

But then, the characteristics of these shortages often differ tremendously, and with them the solutions. Private security services are not any kind of service. Our workers and companies are responsible for the health, security and safety of citizens. We are subject to very specific regulation and conditions, which by the way make it even more difficult for our sector to compete with others for new workers.

So yes, communication and collaboration is key to ensure economic growth and anticipate future employment change. As a business service, our sector relies and the economic strength and growth in other sectors. About shared solutions I would, from a European perspective, be sceptical though.

The complete interview in Italian can be found here: