Guards, also called security officers, patrol and inspect property to protect against fire, theft, vandalism, and illegal entry. Their duties vary with the size, type, and location of their employer.
In office buildings, banks, hospitals, and department stores, guards protect records, merchandise, money, and equipment. In department stores, they often work with undercover detectives to watch for theft by customers or store employees.
At ports, airports, and railroads, guards protect merchandise being shipped as well as property and equipment. They screen passengers and visitors for weapons, explosives, and other contraband. They ensure that nothing is stolen while being loaded or unloaded, and watch for fires, prowlers, and trouble among work crews. Sometimes they direct traffic.
Guards who work in public buildings, such as museums or art galleries, protect paintings and exhibits. They also answer routine questions from visitors and sometimes guide tours.
In factories, laboratories, government buildings, data processing centers, and military bases where valuable property or information such as information on new products, computer codes, or defense secrets must be protected, guards check the credentials of persons and vehicles entering and leaving the premises. University, park, or recreation guards perform similar duties and also may issue parking permits and direct traffic. Golf course patrollers prevent unauthorized persons from using the facility and help keep play running smoothly.
At social affairs, sports events, conventions, and other public gatherings, guards provide information, assist in crowd control, and watch for persons who may cause trouble. Some guards work as bouncers and patrol places of entertainment such as nightclubs to preserve order among customers and to protect property.
Armored car guards protect money and valuables during transit. Bodyguards protect individuals from bodily injury, kidnapping, or invasion of privacy.
In a large organization, a security officer often is in charge of the guard force; in a small organization, a single worker may be responsible for all security measures. Patrolling usually is done on foot, but if the property is large, guards may make their rounds by car or motor scooter. As more businesses purchase advanced electronic security systems to protect their property, more guards are being assigned to stations where they monitor perimeter security, environmental functions, communications, and other systems. In many cases, these guards maintain radio contact with other guards patrolling on foot or in motor vehicles. Some guards use computers to store information on matters relevant to security for example, visitors or suspicious occurrences during their hours on duty.
As they make their rounds, guards check all doors and windows, see that no unauthorized persons remain after working hours, and ensure that fire extinguishers, alarms, sprinkler systems, furnaces, and various electrical and plumbing systems are working properly. They sometimes set thermostats or turn on lights for janitorial workers.
Guards usually are uniformed and may carry a nightstick and gun, although the bearing of guns is decreasing. They also may carry a flashlight, whistle, two-way radio, and a watch clock a device that indicates the time at which they reach various checkpoints.
Correction officers guards who work in prisons and other correctional institutions are discussed separately in this section of the Handbook.
Guards check the credentials of persons entering or leaving a building.
Guards work indoors and outdoors patrolling buildings, industrial plants, and grounds. Indoors, they may be stationed at a guard desk to monitor electronic security and surveillance devices or to check the credentials of persons entering or leaving the premises. They also may be stationed at gate shelters or may patrol grounds in all weather.
Because guards often work alone, there may be no one nearby to help if an accident or injury occurs. Some large firms, therefore, use a reporting service that enables guards to be in constant contact with a central station outside the plant. If they fail to transmit an expected signal, the central station investigates. Guard work is usually routine, but guards must be constantly alert for threats to themselves and to the property that they are protecting. Guards who work during the day may have a great deal of contact with other employees and members of the public.
Many guards work alone at night; the usual shift lasts 8 hours. Some employers have three shifts, and guards rotate to divide daytime, weekend, and holiday work equally. Guards usually eat on the job instead of taking a regular break.
Guards held about 803,000 jobs in 1992. Industrial security firms and guard agencies employed over one-half of all guards. These organizations provide security services on contract, assigning their guards to buildings and other sites as needed. The remainder were in-house guards, employed in large numbers by banks; building management companies; hotels; hospitals; retail stores; restaurants and bars; schools, colleges, and universities; and Federal, State, and local governments.
Although guard jobs are found throughout the country, most are located in metropolitan areas.
Most employers prefer guards who are high school graduates. Applicants with less than a high school education also can qualify if they pass reading and writing tests and demonstrate competence in following written and oral instructions. Some jobs require a driver's license. Employers also seek people who have had experience in the military police or in State and local police departments. Most persons who enter guard jobs have prior work experience, although it is usually unrelated. Because of limited formal training requirements and flexible hours, this occupation attracts some persons seeking a second job. For some entrants, retired from military careers or other protective services, guard employment is a second career.
Applicants are expected to have good character references, no police record, good health especially in hearing and vision and good personal habits such as neatness and dependability. They should be mentally alert, emotionally stable, and physically fit in order to cope with emergencies. Guards who have frequent contact with the public should be friendly and personable. Some employers require applicants to take a polygraph examination or a written test of honesty, attitudes, and other personal qualities. Most employers require applicants and experienced workers to submit to drug screening tests as a condition of employment.
Virtually all States and the District of Columbia have licensing or registration requirements for guards who work for contract security agencies. Registration generally requires that employment of an individual as a guard be reported to the licensing authorities the State police department or other State licensing commission. To be granted a license as a guard, individuals generally must be 18 years old, have no convictions for perjury or acts of violence, pass a background examination, and complete classroom training in such subjects as property rights, emergency procedures, and seizure of suspected criminals. In 1990, only about five States and the District of Columbia had licensing requirements for in-house guards.
Candidates for guard jobs in the Federal Government must have some experience as a guard and pass a written examination. Armed Forces experience also is an asset. For most Federal guard positions, applicants must qualify in the use of firearms.
The amount of training guards receive varies. Training requirements generally are increasing as modern, highly sophisticated security systems become more commonplace. Many employers give newly hired guards instruction before they start the job and also provide several weeks of on-the-job training. More and more States are making ongoing training a legal requirement. For example, New York State now requires guards to complete 40 hours of training after starting work. Guards receive training in protection, public relations, report writing, crisis deterrence, first aid, drug control, and specialized training relevant to their particular assignment. Guards employed at establishments that place a heavy emphasis on security usually receive extensive formal training. For example, guards at nuclear power plants may undergo several months of training before being placed on duty under close supervision. Guards may be taught to use firearms, administer first aid, operate alarm systems and electronic security equipment, and spot and deal with security problems. Guards who are authorized to carry firearms may be periodically tested in their use according to State or local laws. Some guards are periodically tested for strength and endurance.
Although guards in small companies receive periodic salary increases, advancement is likely to be limited. However, most large organizations use a military type of ranking that offers advancement in position and salary. Higher level guard experience may enable persons to transfer to police jobs that offer higher pay and greater opportunities for advancement. Guards with some college education may advance to jobs that involve administrative duties or the prevention of espionage and sabotage. A few guards with management skills open their own contract security guard agencies.
Job openings for persons seeking work as guards are expected to be plentiful through the year 2005. High turnover and this occupation's large size ranks it among those providing the greatest number of job openings in the entire economy. Many opportunities are expected for persons seeking full-time employment, as well as for those seeking part-time or second jobs at night or on weekends. However, some competition is expected for the higher paying in-house guard positions. Compared to contract security guards, in-house guards enjoy higher earnings and benefits, greater job security, and more advancement potential, and are usually given more training and responsibility.
Employment of guards is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Increased concern about crime, vandalism, and terrorism will heighten the need for security in and around plants, stores, offices, and recreation areas. The level of business investment in increasingly expensive plant and equipment is expected to rise, resulting in growth in the number of guard jobs. Demand for guards will also grow as private security firms increasingly perform duties such as monitoring crowds at airports and providing security in courts formerly handled by government police officers and marshals. (Police, detectives, and special agents are discussed separately in this section of the Handbook.) Because engaging the services of a security guard firm is easier and less costly than assuming direct responsibility for hiring, training, and managing a security guard force, job growth is expected to be concentrated among contract security guard agencies.
Guards employed by industrial security and guard agencies occasionally are laid off when the firm at which they work does not renew its contract with their agency. Most are able to find employment with other agencies, however. Guards employed directly by the firm at which they work are seldom laid off because a plant or factory must still be protected even when economic conditions force it to close temporarily.
According to a survey of workplaces in 160 metropolitan areas, guards with less responsibilty and training had median hourly earnings of $6.00 in 1992. The middle half earned between $5.00 and $7.35 an hour. Guards with more specialized training and experience had median hourly earnings of $11.15, with the middle half earning between $9.05 and $13.34 an hour. Guards employed by industrial security and guard agencies generally started at or slightly above the minimum wage, which was $4.25 an hour in 1993.
Unionized in-house guards tend to earn more than the average. Many guards are represented by the United Plant Guard Workers Of America. Other guards belong to the International Union of Guards or the International Union Of Security Officers.
Depending on their experience, newly hired guards in the Federal Government earned between $14,600 and $16,400 a year in 1993. Guards employed by the Federal Government averaged about $21,700 a year in 1993. These workers usually receive overtime pay as well as a wage differential for the second and third shifts.
Guards protect property, maintain security, and enforce regulations for entry and conduct in the establishments at which they work. Related security and protective service occupations include: Bailiffs, border guards, correction officers, deputy sheriffs, fish and game wardens, house or store detectives, police officers, and private investigators.
Reprinted with Permission of U. S. Department of Labor