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Moving beyond ‘errand boys’, security officers to get skills upgrade

SINGAPORE — Security officers here are often underused and lack proper training, with some even made to run errands for their employers such as buying coffee or food, industry players say.

There are currently 47,000 security officers across 600 security service providers in Singapore. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY

There are currently 47,000 security officers across 600 security service providers in Singapore. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY

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SINGAPORE — Security officers here are often underused and lack proper training, with some even made to run errands for their employers such as buying coffee or food, industry players say.

As demand for security services continues to rise amid growing threats, the Government is looking to transform the traditionally manpower-intensive industry into one that leverages on technology and raises skills to deliver “high-quality security solutions”, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as it launched the security industry transformation map (ITM) on Tuesday (Feb 13). The blueprint is aimed at enhancing regulatory standards, greater use of technology and better career progression for those working in the industry.

There are currently 47,000 security officers in Singapore. While employment for the industry has been growing at about five per cent annually over the past five years — almost double the growth rate of overall employment — it still has the highest number of job vacancies among rank-and-file workers.

The Manpower Ministry's latest report on job vacancies in Singapore showed that there were 1,540 openings for security guards as of September 30 last year, compared with 1,370 for shop sales assistants and 1,350 for waiters for example.

Under the ITM, some S$10 million will be invested over the next three years to support technology and innovation in the industry, help users source for services that will best meet their security needs, as well as improve skills acquisition and career progression.

For instance, the MHA and Temasek Polytechnic will be offering a part-time specialist diploma in security consultancy from April next year. The one-year course will cover risk assessment, security technologies and project management.


But beyond these initiatives, a paradigm shift among service buyers and security agencies is crucial for transformation to happen, said the unionists.

Mr Steve Tan, executive secretary of the Union of Security Employees, noted that security officers today often end up running errands that are not related to their core job.

He said: “I think the mindset change is the toughest (to achieve). Today, if you list down the duties that security officers actually do on the ground, a large (part of it) is not guarding, it’s concierge (work).

“This is something we have to address. Unfortunately, mindset change cannot be legislated.”

Mr Tan added that firms that seek to improve and enhance their security will naturally be keen to see what combination of manpower and technology solutions will help them achieve their needs.

“If your (mindset) is, I get a security officer who is there 24/7 to help me buy (food) when I am hungry, that is an absolutely wrong way of deploying security officers,” he said.

Mr Zainal Sapari, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Assistant Secretary-General, added: “There are still many service buyers who expect warm bodies to be around and these officers only need the basic skills. But with greater usage of technology, security officers need to acquire new skills.”

About half of the security officers here are over 50 years old, and 25 per cent are over 60. Mr Zainal, who co-chairs the Security ITM Tripartite Committee, is hopeful that the new training programmes will help attract more graduates from the tertiary institutions and universities to join the industry.


Part of the ITM will focus on fostering smart sourcing of security services, where service contracts are awarded based on performance and quality, instead of solely on price. For instance, service buyers can decide on the maximum response time acceptable in the event of a security incident, then assess how many officers are needed to achieve that outcome. This will require buyers to conduct security risk assessments, specify expected performance outcomes, and longer contract durations.

Speaking at the launch of the ITM, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Manpower Josephine Teo said buyers of security services often adopt tender specifications that have been in place for years, such as asking for the same number of guards as previous contracts without knowing whether it is optimal.

There is “low awareness” of new technologies that can boost security outcomes, she said.

Under NTUC’s Smart Sourcing initiative, buyers of security, cleaning and landscaping services who adopt best sourcing practices can receive funding support of up to 20 per cent of the total contract price, capped at S$100,000 per contract.

Smart sourcing also encourages different entities to aggregate demand for security services to tap economies of scale. NTUC is currently working with four condominiums in the eastern region to streamline their security workforce by deploying roving response teams from a central command centre.

A digital plan to help security firms adopt market-ready solutions will be launched by the middle of this year. The Info-communications Media Development Authority will also spearhead an initiative to help buyers work with security agencies and tech companies to develop innovative solutions that are not yet available in the market.

Mrs Teo said: “Our vision is a vibrant, technologically advanced and competitive security industry that provides quality services at good value..

“A successful transformation of the security industry must bring about better value for buyers, better jobs for Singaporeans (in the sector), and at the same time, better security for Singapore.”

The initiatives announced on Tuesday are part of the Government’s efforts to boost working conditions in the security industry in recent years.

From next year, private security officers will be paid up to S$300 more over three years, based on a progressive wage model mooted by the Security Tripartite Cluster in 2014.

From 2021, their overtime hours will be capped at 72 hours a month — in line with the Employment Act — instead of the current 95 hours under the average arrangement of 12-hour shifts, six days a week. Thereafter, exemptions will be issued on a case-by-case basis, but only to meet short-term needs.

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