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12.01.2023 13:52

Upheavals in the private security sector

In recent weeks, bouncers and security guards have come in for fierce criticism in public. In the controversy, comments have been made on the training and skills of those working in the sector.

Ville Siikanen is a shop steward who worked as a bouncer for over twenty years. He says that nowadays people carry all sorts of weapons on them and also threaten with them.

Workers in the private security sector constantly have to cope with provocations and verbal abuse at work.

“The language is brutal and coarse, including death threats, provocation, with photos and videos being taken.”

According to head shop steward Toni Lindgren, this sort of thing has been going on for some time. The situation has escalated with the recent publicity. In some online chat forums, there is even a lynch mentality.

“With this public furore, the situation has got out of hand. Now ordinary people are taking a hostile attitude to bouncers.”

Toni Lindgren points out that most workers in the sector are professionals who do important work to keep people safe.

“In any industry you find people who are not up to the job. It’s the same in the private security sector, but you can’t stigmatise all workers in the sector based on the actions of certain individuals.”

Both would like to see more training in the sector.

More qualified personnel in the sector

The private security sector started growing when a change to the law in 2016 expanded the powers of bouncers. Public order control tasks were transferred from the police to private security companies. There were already concerns back then about bouncers’ professional competence and occupational safety.

“Police officers do several years’ training for this work, whereas the training for private security work can be just one week”, says education policy expert Eero Löytömäki at PAM.

“To become a bouncer, you need to have 40 hours of training and it’s also a 40-hour course to be a temporary guard. A security guard’s licence takes 120 hours of training. Under the law this is sufficient, but it’s really not enough for real-life situations.”

Löytömäki stresses that to work in the security sector you need a robust skillset and there are special occupational safety requirements. You can’t acquire those skills with the current training requirements.

In the future, as many workers in the sector as possible should have a relevant vocational qualification.

“The default position needs to be that everyone working permanently in the sector should have completed a basic or vocational qualification in the security sector. Then instead of a couple of weeks we’re talking about training lasting 1–3 years.”

A basic or vocational qualification in the security sector would ensure a better level of skills and occupational safety would also improve.

A limited number of employees could be trained on shorter courses to cover short-term needs.

Löytömäki calls for aptitude tests for training in the sector, which could be organised in the social and healthcare sector for example. There is an aptitude assessment for persons wanting to be emergency medical technicians, and this could include things like a psychological interview or personality tests.

“Guards and bouncers have considerable powers and the job description also includes using force. With such a responsible job it’s important to make sure that those entering the sector are also suitable for it.”

Better monitoring

The police play a key role in monitoring the private security sector since police forces are responsible for overall monitoring of security services in their territory and for licences for employees in the sector. Shortcomings have been detected in the authority operates, however.

Collective bargaining specialist Markku Saikkonen from PAM’s collective representation department says that for example licence practices vary between police forces.

“Licences for guards and bouncers are approved and withdrawn based on different criteria in different parts of Finland. For example, it could be that a licence is withdrawn for a drink driving incident in one police force’s patch but not in another.”

This is explained by a lack of police funding.

According to head shop steward Toni Lindgren, the shortcomings in official monitoring are also reflected in the internal controls of private security firms, since the company may not get to know that an employee’s guard’s licence has been suspended by the police.

Proper orientation

The sector has severe staffing problems, so there isn’t always time for proper job orientation. Lindgren admits that job orientation varies.

“New employees should get orientation relevant to their work site, where the threats and risks are reviewed. This doesn’t always happen.”

Lindgren thinks that job orientation and training are also very much occupational safety issues.

“Staff can be going into the field with incomplete information and can up against unexpected and threatening situations. The police have a completely different level of authority in public places than bouncers have, and they are constantly being challenged.”

Sector distorted by aggressive tendering

There are also problems around the way private security firms’ services are sourced. The tendering processes used by businesses and public bodies to buy services from private security firms affect the sector.Here Markku Saikkonen would switch the focus to the organisations buying the services.

“The security sector is highly competitive – the lower the price a private security firm can offer its services to the customer, the more likely it is to win the contract. Here we also need to take a look at those buying the services – have things gone too far?"

Head shop steward Toni Lindgren agrees, and he can see what tough price competition leads to at the workplace.

“Public tenders are decided on price. If the cheapest bidder is selected, the company can’t afford to focus on supervision, for example. It’s hard to get good quality on the cheap.”

Lindgren notes that demand for private security services is growing strongly. All sorts of events, concerts, shopping centres and public spaces need security services since police resources are overstretched.

“Bouncers and guards do work with an important social function since they are overseeing people’s security. Our workers are also the first to see people’s problems and the crises in society.”

Abridged version of  article posted in  in Finnish.


private security