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Navigating the Complexities of Freelance Event Security Recruitment

Insights from James Cabot, a respected event organiser in the UK

We recently interviewed James Cabot, a respected event organiser in the UK, who has delivered a large number of sophisticated large-scale events for many different clients. James is also an SIA-badge holder, and works as a freelance close protection officer and door supervisor on occasion too, which means he is uniquely disposed to understand both points of view – security operatives and clients. We asked James to highlight the key issues he has to deal with as a client looking to recruit freelance event security operatives, and how he believes these are being addressed by Surely for the mutual benefit of guards and clients alike.

I am writing in my main role within the industry as a client, mostly as either an Event Producer or Operations Manager – a person whose role means they are required to source a reliable security provision to deliver the events they are responsible for.

As an event operations or production manager, one of the most important challenges I face is selecting security personnel who meet the needs of the event, whilst at the same time maintaining the standards required by licensing and the Security Industry Authority.

Most security companies we deal with make huge claims that they are the solution, such as that they are the cheapest and the best. All too rarely are their assertions backed up by the evidence of what they deliver and the security operatives they provide.

So, what needs to change from the experience of the client, and why do you like the idea of Surely?

Well, there are a number of important ways in which Surely demonstrates that it understands many of the problems faced by clients like me when trying to recruit high quality security operatives for an event. It is worth pointing out that these are in fact the same sort of issues that you are likely to come across when looking for desirable door supervisors for hospitality venues too.

1.      Reliability

A real problem faced by event organisers is operatives not turning up on time, or not turning up at all. I have often been faced with a situation where SIA operatives are missing very close to the opening time of an event. It is an issue which could cause an event, or licensed premises, to fall foul of their licensing conditions, as well as meaning that customers will be potentially unsafe too of course. In extreme situations, it can lead to postponing, cancelling or closing an event, which would be catastrophically bad on so many levels, as you can well imagine, and for all concerned.

One of the great things about Surely is that rather than having to rely on the word of a middleman, I can immediately view their personal page on the platform, which immediately tells me a lot about who they are – such as the number of times they have been a “no show” and what other clients thought about them through the review system. I can get a much better sense of their personality from their photos, video and personal bio – and I can chat with them by text, phone or video before making a final decision if I wish to do so. I can also see their qualifications, experience and BS7857 credentials – all important factors to bear in mind.

2.      Professionalism and Customer Confidence

Time and time again, I have witnessed incidents between security operatives and members of the public unnecessarily escalate from a small issue into a big one. It is a real concern for event organisers if the operatives they have on site are not only acting outside the law, but are also unaware of best practice, and are simply ignoring the working policies of an event.

Something that really appeals to me with Surely is the SurelyPro Badges that they have created. Qualifying for one or more of these badges clearly demonstrates to me that an operative is committed to continuing professional development – which benefits both customers and clients alike. One of them is for Conflict Management, ideal in this sort of situation as evidence of their understanding of and commitment to the de-escalation of situations using common sense tools to do so.

Knowing that I have hired operatives who have proven their understanding of the importance of delivering a great customer experience is a massive relief to me as an organiser. Customer Service is another SurelyPro badge that security operatives can earn. Customer confidence is so important. We live in a world where everything is filmed and now, more than ever, the appearance and behaviour of operatives comes under close scrutiny.

Knowing you have hired operatives with relevant additional training is invaluable when dealing with complaints or negative social media attention. Additional training, such as the SurelyPro Badges, gives me great confidence in my security team supporting a positive image for the event.

3.      Appearance and Attitude

“My mate sent me a WhatsApp saying you were looking for security people. I didn’t have any clean trousers, so I came along in joggers.”

This is unfortunately the sort of thing that many event organisers have heard – and despair at. Some argue that there’s a space for this kind of deployment for some security roles. But, surely not, when the first interaction with an event or premises is often a security operative.

Likewise, operatives who are disenfranchised with their contractor are typically quick to share their unhappiness with a client, which is just unpleasant to deal with.

This is something I really like about Surely; it eliminates the uneasiness of not knowing what kind of operative you’re expecting; you see their professional image straight away.

Attitude is key. Within the event world, an operative is so much more than just someone providing security support – that’s the bare minimum really. The way they conduct themselves will make all the difference between a positive and negative experience of an event in the eyes of its customers.

Surely’s review platform gives me a deep insight into understanding whether the operative I’m looking for is the right candidate to represent my brand. I’ve found so many times that those who take care and are passionate about their role not only have a better time at work, they also create positive memories for customers.

4.      Professional Development

With ever evolving legislation and guidance, including the new Terrorism (Protection of Venues) Bill (also known as Martyn’s Law), it’s really important that event organisers understand AND deliver on their responsibility to keep customers and other stakeholders safe. Knowing that operatives have a good understanding of the changing demands of the industry is critical. Evidence that operatives have undergone additional training in these areas, as well as many others, proves to me that they understand their commitment to public safety.

Gone are the days where security staff were the “thugs on the door”. The truth is that they are right at the very forefront of customer safety and, as such, their training should reflect this.

It’s my belief that the basic SIA DS training does not currently deliver the level required, so seeing evidence that an operative has engaged in additional training makes them highly desirable. As before, all qualifications and verified documentation can be found on the Surely platform, along with their CV, which gives me a good understanding of their experience and expertise too.

5.      Accessibility and Diversity

It is vitally important in this day and age that events are accessible and inviting to all. I absolutely love working with operatives who have got a decent understanding of the Equality Act 2010.

It’s immensely refreshing when an operative spots and acts upon a need of a customer in a proactive way; and this often leads to praise for both the operative and the event. Diversity is also key, so having an operative who knows that it is important to respect chosen pronouns, interact with diverse communities and make everyone feel welcome enhances an event in so many ways.

Surely’s Inclusivity Pledge offers a great head start to any operative looking to expand their knowledge in this area, and to demonstrate this to potential clients. As an event organiser, knowing front line operatives have an understanding of and proactive approach to diversity and accessibility is a big help.

5.      Value for Money

As an event organiser, I honestly don’t mind paying a premium for decent staff. What I hate is being charged upwards of £25ph for someone being paid minimum wage (or less). I understand that contractors have costs associated with deploying operatives, but it’s often the case that the price of multiple sub-contracting results in staff being underpaid and overpriced. I am happy to use reputable security companies, but not when unnecessary middlemen are involved, as is too often the case. There is nothing to stop agents from using Surely, after all, to supply staff for events, and I would be happy with that solution too.

 Surely provides a secure platform for both event organisers and security companies, allowing them to find decent staff and eliminate unnecessary layers of middlemen to prevent the dilution of wages and to ensure that value is delivered by and for everyone involved.

I also really like how clear and easy the pricing structure works on Surely, and how it delivers benefits for both clients and operatives. It also eliminates the worry that so many operatives have of not getting paid what they are owed, and ensures that they get paid on time too.

Conclusion

Particularly in the post-Brexit, post-Covid era, it has become more and more difficult to obtain quality security staff who deliver a great security and service experience, which in turn leads to customers and staff feeling safe, and this then means that everyone has a great time.

It has never been more important to ensure that motivated, professional security operatives are deployed at events and hospitality venues. Event organisers, security contractors and security operatives all have a role to play in making this happen.

This is why as an event organiser I love the idea of Surely; and believe that now is the time for change when it comes to security operative provision at events and venues across the UK. I believe that it will benefit other key stakeholders as well as clients, operatives and customers – police forces and local authorities will see the benefits too.

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