The industry that's toughing it out
Security-firm owners the Conns say the slump could help them.
Close Circuit’s Adam and Nick Conn
The recession could redefine the status of the security industry, particularly among the Jewish community, say former policemen Adam and Nick Conn.
The London-based brothers run private security firm Close Circuit. Founded in 2004, it provides security to wealthy individuals, schools, sites and events, and offers training to aspiring security professionals. Today, it is a million-pound business and the duo say they are experiencing a 30 per cent increase in inquiries on last year. The reason? People who have been made redundant — Jews among them — are turning to security as a stable job option in the recession. “There are two growth areas in the recession,” says Nick, 27, who joined Close Circuit around eight months ago to develop its training division. “One is care and the other is security.” Adam, 30, explains: “While I don’t think security, or any company, is recession-proof, people are always going to need security.
“Wealthy people still have their money and want it looked after, and unfortunately some people that have lost a lot turn to crime. Businesses can’t demand the police 24-hours-a-day, so they will use security. And a lot of construction sites are cutting back on builders, so there is the need to call in security to oversee sites. Previously, this would have been the builder’s responsibility.” He adds: “Security is an industry that will maintain a busy peak. It will stay turning over nicely.”
According to Nick, people from highly-skilled professions — legal, banking, management — are being made redundant and approaching them for training.
The company has secured access to the government’s £1bn investment fund, launched to invest in businesses with high growth potential and help combat unemployment, which, at 2.4 million, is at its highest level since 1995. They plan to use this pot to offer an unlimited number of six-month apprenticeships worth £25,000 to the rising number of jobless people aged 17-24. Recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics indicated that 722,000 people aged 16 to 24 were out of work, while 206,000 people aged 16 to 18 are out of work.
The brothers believe the apprenticeships are the ideal opportunity for those seeking a job. “Even if it’s not full-time, it could earn them a bit of money in quieter periods,” says Adam, who lives in Kings Langley. In fact, Nick says that many people are using security as a stepping stone until they get into the desired industry of their choice. He says any job that is recruiting when other businesses are not will be appealing.
The basic salary can range between £20,000 and £40,000 and at a more skilled level, such as close protection, from £40,000 to above £80,000. The hourly rate is between £10 and £15.
A career in security is “not just about being big and tough”, say industry experts Adam and Nick Conn
Jewish people are particularly suited to the security industry says Nick, adding that there is a “100 per cent misconception” about the profession.
“People think that security is about being big and tough. This is not the case. For example, when you are securing a rich Arab who has come over here, being really big and dressed in a suit will just draw attention to the person you are guarding.
“A lot of what we do involves talking and calming the situation down. Jewish people are naturally good at talking, understanding and empathising. These people skills are the most important part of security. It’s about professionalism, not ‘toughism’.”
He adds: “The training that Close Circuit gives is to the highest standard and includes learning to deal with bomb threats, controlling aggressive behaviour, terrorism, conflict management, hostage negotiation and more. We expect people to know nothing and envisage them becoming the best.”
Close Circuit has close to 200 clients, including the NHS, St Pancras International station and the Royal Institute of British Architects. It has also secured a £500,000 contract with construction firm McNicholas. Annual turnover has grown from £40,000 in year one to more than £1.5m, and with the approaching 2010 Olympics — a potential £2m- or £3m-worth of extra annual business — it is hardly surprising that the Conns are upbeat about the future opportunities.
The Home Office has reportedly allocated £300 million for security for the 2012 Olympics, which is likely to require 10,000 security staff. Although G4S, the world’s leading international security group, have the principal tender, Close Circuit is hoping to provide contract staff. “We are preparing for that,” says Adam, who identifies barmitzvahs as an additional growing area. “It’s weird — a lot of people have started having security at the function venues, more as a door host, to prevent kids and gate crashers.”
All this must seem a far cry from 2004 when Adam left the police force after a seven-year stint to set up the company with, as he puts it, absolutely no money at all. “I built a website and then spent all of my days off during the police cold-calling companies. I was doing about 100 a day.”
His big break came when a bar in the City agreed to meet him and he secured his first contract. As for the future, the plan, say the brothers, is to keep growing and not necessarily sell out. In the meantime they are actively targeting 17- to 24-year-olds. “We would love to see this age group getting into security,” says Nick.