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Nature of the Work
* Job opportunities are expected to be favorable through the year 2006. High turnover and this occupation's large size ranks it among those providing the greatest number of job openings in the economy.
* Many employers of unarmed guards do not have any specific educational requirements.
* Employers generally will not hire applicants that have been convicted of a serious crime.
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. (Correctional officersguards who work in prisons and other correctional institutionsand police, detectives, and special agents are discussed separately in this section of the Handbook.)
In office buildings, banks, hospitals, and department stores, guards protect people, records, merchandise, money, and equipment. In department stores, they often work with undercover detectives to watch for theft by customers or store employees.
At air, sea, and rail terminals, and other transportation facilities, guards protect people, merchandise being shipped, property, and equipment. They screen passengers and visitors for weapons, explosives, and other contraband, ensure nothing is stolen while being loaded or unloaded, and watch for fires and prowlers. They may direct traffic.
Guards who work in public buildings, such as museums or art galleries, protect paintings and exhibits by inspecting the people and packages entering and leaving the building. They answer routine questions from visitors and sometimes guide tours.
In factories, laboratories, government buildings, data processing centers, and military bases in which valuable property or informationsuch as information on new products, computer codes, or defense secretsmust 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 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 is often in charge of the guard force; in a small organization, a single worker may be responsible for all security measures. Patrolling is usually 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 securityfor example, visitors or suspicious occurrencesduring 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.
Guards who carry weapons must be licensed by the appropriate government authority, and some receive further certification as special police officers, which allows them to make limited types of arrests while on duty. Unarmed guards may carry a flashlight, whistle, two-way radio, and a watch clocka device that indicates the time at which they reach various checkpoints.
Most guards spend considerable time on their feet 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 a gate, or may patrol grounds in all weather.
Because some guards work alone, especially at night, there may be no one nearby to help if an accident or injury occurs. Many guards use a portable radio or telephone that allows them to be in constant contact with a central station outside the guarded area. 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 the property 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 away from the site.
Guards held about 955,000 jobs in 1996. Industrial security firms and guard agencies employed 59 percent 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 many settings including banks, building management companies, hotels, hospitals, retail stores, restaurants, bars, schools, and government.
Guard jobs are found throughout the country, mostly in metropolitan areas.
Most States require that guards be licensed. To be licensed as a guard, individuals must generally be 18 years old, pass a background examination, and complete classroom training in such subjects as property rights, emergency procedures, and detention of suspected criminals.
Many employers of unarmed guards do not have any specific educational requirements. For armed guards, employers generally prefer individuals who are high school graduates. Some jobs require a driver's license. For positions as armed guards, employers often seek people who have had experience in the military or in law enforcement. Most persons entering 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.
Applicants are expected to have good character references, no serious police record, good healthespecially hearing and visionand 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 psychological profile. Many employers require applicants and experienced workers to submit to drug screening tests as a condition of employment.
Candidates for guard jobs in the Federal Government must have some experience as a guard and pass a written examination in order to be certified by the General Services Administration. Armed Forces experience 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 are higher for armed guards, because their employers are legally responsible for any use of force. Armed guards receive formal training in areas such as weapons retention and laws covering the use of force.
Many employers give newly hired guards instruction before they start the job and also provide several weeks of on-the-job training. An increasing number of States are making ongoing training a legal requirement for retention of certification. Guards may receive training in protection, public relations, report writing, crisis deterrence, first aid, as well as specialized training relevant to their particular assignment.
Guards employed at establishments placing a heavy emphasis on security usually receive extensive formal training. For example, guards at nuclear power plants undergo several months of training before being placed on duty under close supervision. They are taught to use firearms, administer first aid, operate alarm systems and electronic security equipment, and spot and deal with security problems. Guards authorized to carry firearms may be periodically tested in their use. Some guards are likewise periodically tested for health, strength and endurance.
Although guards in small companies receive periodic salary increases, advancement is limited. However, most large organizations use a military type of ranking that offers the possibility of advancement in position and salary. Guards with talent and some college education may advance to jobs that involve administrative and management duties. Guards with management skills may open their own contract security guard agencies.
Job opportunities for persons seeking work as guards are expected to be favorable through the year 2006. High turnover and this occupation's large size rank it among those providing the greatest number of job openings in the 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 higher paying, high security positions. Compared to unarmed security guards, armed guards and special police enjoy higher earnings and benefits, greater job security, more advancement potential, and are usually given more training and responsibility.
Employment of guards is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Increased concern about crime, vandalism, and terrorism will heighten the need for security in and around homes, plants, stores, offices, and recreation areas. Demand for guards will also grow as private security firms increasingly perform dutiessuch as monitoring crowds at airports and providing security in courtsformerly handled by government police officers and marshals. 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 are occasionally 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, and may continue to work at the same location for the firm that won the contract. 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.
Median annual earnings of guards who worked full time in 1996 were about $17,300. The middle 50 percent earned between $10,300 and $25,100. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10,300 and the highest tenth earned more than $35,600. Guards generally earn slightly more in urban areas.
According to a survey of workplaces in 160 metropolitan areas, guards with the least responsibility and training had median hourly earnings of $6.50 in 1995. The middle half earned between $5.50 and $7.92 an hour. Guards with more specialized training and experience had median hourly earnings of $11.73.
Depending on their experience, newly hired guards in the Federal Government earned $15,500 or $17,500 a year in 1997. Beginning salaries were slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local pay level was higher. Guards employed by the Federal Government averaged about $22,900 a year in 1997. 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, correction officers, house or store detectives, and private investigators.
Further information about work opportunities for guards is available from local detective and guard firms and the nearest State employment service office.
Information about licensing requirements for guards may be obtained from the State licensing commission or the State police department. In States where local jurisdictions establish licensing requirements, contact a local government authority such as the sheriff, county executive, or city manager.
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