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The virtues of vocational schools.

ARE VOCATIONAL COLLEGES A SOLUTION to the security profession's training needs, or are security managers, by employing their graduates, contributing to an industry notorious for its fraudulent use of tax dollars?

Much confusion exists over what vocational colleges or proprietary schools are and what they can and cannot do for the security profession-so much confusion, in fact, that employers are refusing to hire their graduates. This is an unfortunate consequence for the schools, the graduates, and the companies that need employees.

Vocational colleges or proprietary or trade schools graduate 700,000 students per year in over I 00 careers ranging from paralegal studies to auto mechanics. One subject gaining great increases in enrollment is security officer training. In a recent year, the second largest proprietary school in the nation graduated 7,000 security officers from its program.

Almost all of these privately owned postsecondary training schools are approved through one or more accreditation agencies and qualify for federal and state financial aid programs. In the 1985-1986 school year (these schools operate year-round), over $900 million was given to vocational students as outright grants. Moreover, that figure does not include the amount of money that is available from the government as lowinterest student loans.

These schools employ modern equipment and effective, professional teaching methods. Job placement assistance is usually available at no cost to the employer. Graduates, who were previously unemployed, on welfare, retired, or bored with their jobs, end up in stable, well-paying positions as a result of such training.

Unfortunately, these schools are not without controversy. The aggressive and sometimes fraudulent enrollment practices, low academic standards, and deception practiced by some less reputable schools are creating a poor public image.

Schools can go out of business overnight through either fraud or mismanagement, leaving students untrained, unemployed, and still obligated to pay the tuition. They enroll students who cannot possibly qualify for a job due to physical handicaps, severe language difficulties, or extensive criminal records. Student loan default rates are high. Some phantom students exist only on the attendance roll-but long enough to bank the government loan check.

In spite of regulation by state and federal agencies, the overwhelming number of these schools makes enforcement of the rules an irregular event. Much enforcement responsibility is given to accreditation agencies, but they suffer from the same understaffing problem. Fortunately, most vocational schools are relatively honest.

Criticisms specific to the security programs have included the argument that security applicants should not need to pay $4,000 (the cost of a typical 300hour program) to get a job. Although that point is true in many cases, it represents a narrow view.

Many companies would hire these applicants even without formalized training. However, those employers didn't see the applicants when they first walked through the school's door. Consequently, the employers cannot see the applicants' often radical, positive transformation in appearance, motivation, and job skills. If it were not for the school's massive advertising and recruitment efforts, which are funded through the tuition, the graduate would not be there looking for employment as a security officer.

Detractors feel the length of the programs is excessive. However, most students from the 300-hour programs feel the course length is appropriate. Their success stories prove that view's merit.

FEW PEOPLE DISPUTE THE VALUE of training. Open almost any security book, and you can find a reference to this need. Some books even provide suggested outlines for courses. These outlines, however, are geared not to the entry-level security officer but to the entry-level supervisor or manager.

The programs offered by vocational schools answer the critical need for improved, professional training at the security officer level, provide an untapped source of personnel, and shift the financial burden of training to the individual. The following is a further examination of the benefits they provide:

* Recruitment. A key to the success or failure of many organizations is the ability to maintain a flow of new applicants. The schools' marketing departments target people with no previous security experience, thus infusing the market with more applicants to help meet the increasing demand for personnel.

Massive advertising campaigns are expensive, especially for a small company. In areas of the country where the unemployment rate is low, some managers look to these schools more for their ability to bring new people into the job market than for their training.

* Professional instruction. Accreditation commissions require that instructors stay informed regarding new methods of presentation. Although these controls could be more stringent, the instructors are generally quite effective.

* Financial burden shifting. Training costs are lifted away from employers, as students are responsible for their own tuition-a plus for companies that cannot afford expensive training programs.

* Transfer of liability. With the increase in training-related litigation, employing graduates from accredited institutions can provide a degree of indemnification against losses due to lawsuits.

* Track record. The applicant's track record over the duration of the course will have been documented by the school. Attendance, punctuality, personality, and general ability will have been demonstrated.

* Less support for state-mandated training. Many security professionals feel that training programs mandated and supervised by state agencies are counterproductive. As these schools increase their enrollment, the perceived need for state programs may be reduced.

MOST COURSES ARE BETWEEN 150 and 320 hours long. Some schools artificially inflate the number of hours to qualify for federal grants. Course lengths of 600 hours are usually needed before the school can receive this "free money." In some cases, these expanded hours are devoted to a boot camp type of training, including close-order drills, as a continuing part of the course.

Some programs are broad-based, covering such subjects as retail security, private patrol, and industrial security. Report writing, public relations, and legal principles are often major components of such courses. The purpose of including those topics is to give the graduate the widest options in entry-level employment.

Other programs are very specific, focusing on a single discipline such as retail security or investigation. Students from these programs are better prepared for their jobs and tend to advance well. Weapons training, self-defense, and any state-required certifications are often included both as marketing tools and as aids to rapid employment.

What differentiates vocational education from a two- or four-year college is the focus toward job training. The "how" is emphasized over the "why"-that is, the skills needed to do the job are stressed over the theory behind the job. Before a good course of study is developed, objectives must be determined from the results of a job task survey. Inexperienced program developers may not feel this step is necessary. Courses that are vague in their direction or usefulness are the result.

Many programs are developed by current or recently retired law enforcement personnel. Thus courses relating to police work, not security, are often included. The professional background and attitude of the developer, along with that of the school's instructional staff, flavor the student's outlook toward his or her job duties.

The course outline in the accompanying box is typical of curricula currently in use. Motivation must be a key element of the course. It is often the singular ingredient that has ensured success where public schools and many in-house programs have missed their mark.

DESPITE THE PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED with these schools, their positive contributions must not be overlooked. By taking the following steps, security professionals can maximize the value of these institutions:

* Check the school's accreditation. Schools accredited by an agency of the US Department of Education conform to higher standards of quality and fair dealing than those that are not. The National Association of Trade and Technical Schools (NATTS) and the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools (AICS) are two such agencies.

* Examine the school's curriculum. Take the time to contact the school. Examine its courses. Find out the objective of the program. Determine whether the material presented addresses your, or your client's, needs. If it does not, offer recommendations or supplement the training on your own.

Some schools will not provide the information you want in detail. The fear that ideas and methods will be stolen is usually the reason behind such reluctance. Truly effective vocational college programs are difficult and time-consuming to develop, a process more involved than many would think.

* Examine the qualifications of the instructors. The presence of only a few qualified personnel could indicate the school's lack of commitment to quality. The staff's professional credentials are as important as its competence in instructional methods. (Some educators disagree with this premise, maintaining that a good instructor can teach anything.)

* Verify that the applicant did in fact graduate. This should be done even if the applicant presents a diploma. Many schools are lax in their record keeping, control of diplomas, or guidelines used for issuing diplomas. A student might fail key elements of the program (such as first aid or firearms certification) and still qualify for a diploma. Question the student on just what was taught and what he or she had to accomplish. The important criterion is not the diploma but the job skills and standards the student attained.

* Conduct your own background investigation. A major point of concern and controversy centers on background investigations. Many security managers assume the school has conducted a complete check on each student prior to enrollment. Some schools do; most do not. Most schools follow a policy that excludes anyone convicted of a felony, but verification of that condition is usually left to a yes or no response on the preenrollment application.

Except for the study of retail security, most curricula do not contain information a crook can substantially benefit from, so a background check by the school is not a sound business practice. Granted, a felony background will (or should) make it difficult to secure employment, thus affecting the morality of enrolling the person in the first place. However, if students knowingly misrepresent their criminal history, they're on their own. The admissions department of a reputable school will inform prospective students of the difficulties a criminal history will impose on their job search.

Even if a school does conduct preenrollment background checks, security managers should not rely on the results. The function of the school should be to recruit potential applicants for security positions and to certify that they have successfully completed a certain degree of training. Security managers have no control over the quality of a school's investigation or its standards of acceptance. For example, does it restrict enrollment to persons without felonies or just selected crimes? What the person has been doing since enrollment will not have been established.

* Do not demoralize or discourage the graduates. Some employers make it a point to inform applicants that they have been ripped off by the school or that the material presented to them was a waste. The implication that they will be hired only because the employer feels sorry for them is strong. These are the same employers who complain that every vocational education graduate they have hired has been totally unreliable. Most of these "unreliable" students had good grades and perfect attendance for the three to four and a half months of their course. Why the discrepancy in performance? Any chapter in a book on basic supervision or motivation will provide a clue.

When the security manager suspects a shortcoming or does not agree with what the school is doing, it's better to accent the positive than to penalize the student and the security manager's own organization.

* Acknowledge their effort. Security managers can encourage enrollment in these programs by assigning graduates to your higher-paying positions or placing them in vacancies where advancement can occur.

* Work with the school's job placement director. Security managers should keep in constant touch with this person. In a school with a high demand for graduates, he or she could easily forget the needs of the security manager who simply places a job order and does not follow up. The job placement director may be able to help by relaying information concerning the graduate's performance, attendance, and attitude.

* If you suspect abuse. . . . If a security manager suspects a school is operating in a fraudulent manner, it is better to rely on management skills to prevent or correct the situation than to depend on a law enforcement attitude, where the tendency is to react and punish. The managerial approach would be to contact a school official who can explain, prevent, or fix the problem. The officials of reputable schools are always happy to explain their positions and receive constructive criticism.

State and federal departments of education, the school's accrediting agency, or the local Department of Consumer Affairs can be contacted if corrective action is not taken by the school. The final step could then be to forward information to the district attorney if a fraud allegation is firmly grounded in fact.

How can a security manager find a reputable vocational college from which to draw job applicants? Thousands of these schools are in operation throughout the country, although most do not offer security training. Newspapers and phone books are a simple source, and advertising on afternoon television is abundant.

One of the major accreditation agencies provides a list of its schools along with the types of programs they offer. For more information, write to the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools, 2251 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20007, or call 202/333-1021.

President Bush, in his State of the Union address, said, "Education is critical to our future. . . . If we are to improve our standard of living, protect and defend our democratic freedoms, and strengthen our moral character, . nothing is more important."

Security managers' continued involvement can raise the integrity and quality of these institutions. This source of new, highly trained applicants is too valuable an asset for the security profession to disregard. * About the Author . . . Eugene Tucker, CPP, is president of Praetorian Protective Services in Redwood City , CA, and was formerly employed by Barclay College/Lawton School.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:training in the security profession
Author:Tucker, Eugene
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jun 1, 1990
Previous Article:Three dimensions of security education.
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