The various sectors of the security industry offer a huge range of job roles that are particularly suitable for ex-Forces personnel – and a close protection career in particular could well be your perfect next step. Read on to find out how to become a close protection officer …
What is close protection?
While close protection (CP) work has traditionally been associated with reducing risk to an individual or family who are considered to be under threat of attack or kidnap, the CP role can also extend to many other tasks, as discussed in detail in this feature.
Depending on the level of risk, a CP team can vary in size from one or two members to a fully equipped team who can provide residential/hotel security, security advance parties (SAP) and protection during moves by vehicle or on foot. It is important that the team leader or operator can assess the risk and be able to recommend the required level of security, commensurate with the perceived threat.
Roles and requirements
Bodyguarding, private security detail (PSD), executive protection, residence security team and personal protection officers are just some of the terms associated with the CP role, but the range of different opportunities available go way beyond these. We take a look at just some of the many and varied options here …
An asset could be anything from a high-value necklace to an aircraft, or even a horse! Close protection operatives (CPOs) are often used to protect high-value items such as jewellery, or the person wearing the jewellery – for example, in the case of a photo shoot where a piece of jewellery is on loan. The company that owns the item needs to ensure that it is secure and returned safely afterwards. This type of role can range from half a day to several consecutive days’ work.
Lifestyle management companies offer busy people a service that meets their individual needs: from people who may just need an extra pair of hands in their daily business activities to more permanent lifestyle support, security and concierge services. Some business people travel extensively in their work and personal lives, and have little time to themselves. Well-trained CPOs with good organisational and negotiation skills can alleviate many minor burdens, leaving business people to concentrate on the important things.
Opportunities exist for well-trained professionals with good communication and interpersonal skills who are presentable and used to solving everyday problems. For some clients, personal security and safety when travelling abroad is often their last thought, as their primary concern is the management of the travel and transport arrangements.
These matters are second nature to trained CP personnel, and go hand in hand with personal security needs. In short, many people are not looking for a CPO, but a concierge or personal assistant. However, it is highly advantageous if this person can also take care of their security and safety needs at the same time without them appearing to have a protection officer. Remember, you might not be employed as a security operator, but you may be expected to take on the role of one as well as that of a PA, concierge, chauffeur, etc. Being a qualified CPO can give that extra added value to someone who initially may not have given personal security a second thought.
Many companies offer complete household management services, providing everything from chauffeurs and gardeners to security and butler services. Approaching these companies with a good, diverse CV, showing a range of skills, can open up a range of different opportunities for CP trained personnel. It may lead to a position as personal safety and security manager, or even as a member of a permanent or temporary residential security team.
Chauffeuring companies, like many other businesses, have recognised a need to expand their services. In a growing market, many now offer security chauffeuring coupled with a personal protection service, sometimes referred to as the individual bodyguard (IBG). Gaining driving qualifications, such as those covering advanced driving and security, and protective advanced driving, can open another route to employment for CPOs in both hostile and executive markets.
Because of the diverse environments CPOs need to be capable of working in, opportunities can open up within sporting venues, large hotels and even national infrastructure. Linked with security management and/or supervisory roles, additional qualifications, such as project management, may enhance an individual’s employability. Some with a CP background have gone on to work for overseas government agencies managing teams of court security officers, and to provide realistic training in legislation and conflict management, acting as technical advisers to individuals working with CCTV and access systems, and running practical exercises in threat and surveillance awareness. Furthermore, CPOs have also been involved as advisers in the security design of buildings, structure and strategy.
There are various reasons for expeditions, ranging from media crews and television companies through to oil expeditionary search teams. Some multinational retail organisations travel around the world looking for exclusive products for their outlets, which can take representatives to more remote, hostile and hazardous environments as part of their work activities, prompting a need for a certain level of security. Not all roles will involve large-scale teams and, depending on risk level, the job could be undertaken by either an individual or small team.
Media crews often have a level of security both for their own protection and the protection of the high-value equipment they carry, which can be worth tens of thousands of pounds. Ranging from fly-on-the-wall documentaries and news crews to major sporting events, these roles can see operators employed on short- or long-term contracts around the UK and the world in a multitude of potentially hazardous environments. In addition, operators may also (depending on their level of training and skill) be required to provide an element of medical support and liaison.
Many companies employ security guards to protect property and premises if they are vacant, however those individuals with a CP licence are more attractive to employers. Some roles have seen newly trained CPOs earn upwards of £200 per day. Some have retained a long-term contract for 18 months based on a six-day week, which provides excellent income and stability, not to mention valuable experience to add to their CV.
While being a qualified and/or experienced CPO does not mean you are a trained surveillance operator, many companies will look to trained CP individuals to provide aspects of or join surveillance teams. Although these roles often go to those with specific training and experience working in surveillance, opportunities to work in surveillance and investigative roles cannot be ruled out. By gaining additional qualifications in surveillance and/or professional investigations, an individual will be able to look at other employment openings.
Some CPOs go on to more managerial roles within security, their qualification in CP proving attractive to employers who, although not specifically looking for a CPO, recognise that the skills and knowledge that come with this level of training are invaluable.
Other more unusual roles include working for the NHS providing protective security to those with mental health-related disorders or learning difficulties, whereby operators act as a protection officer in a discreet manner in order to safeguard individuals from harm while going about their daily business.
What skills are needed to work in close protection?
The CPOs most in demand are generally those from a Special Forces or military background where experience has been gained over a number of years. As well as those contracts that require operators to carry firearms, overseas contracts in the more high-risk countries generally require operators to have local knowledge and the ability to operate on their own. It is possible for someone without this background to progress to this level, but they will need to establish their reputation as part of a team in the UK, often on a more mundane contract, but where they can prove their skills, reliability and professionalism. It is generally during such contracts that the opportunity to network can lead to more interesting tasks.
How do I become a close protection officer?
The SIA Close Protection Licence allows its holder to legally work as a close protection operative or bodyguard in the UK. It is required for those ‘guarding one or more individuals against assault or against injuries that might be suffered in consequence of the unlawful conduct of others. This applies if your services are supplied for the purposes of or in connection with any contract to a consumer.’ Licensing will include a criminal records check; operating without the correct licence is a criminal offence. You can find full details of licence types, and licensable roles and activities (including CP) on the SIA website – this is the best source of in-depth and up-to-date information on the qualifications, licensing and training required to work in this industry. When you’re ready to go, click here for more info and to start your licence application.
These days, the role of CPO extends past the perceived impression of simply providing protection from attackers, with many roles now looking for a range of additional qualifications and experience a close protection grounding can bring. Gaining additional qualifications in health and safety, enhanced medical qualifications such as Medicine in Remote Areas (MIRA), which is endorsed by the Royal College of Surgeons, will make you more attractive to both employers and clients.
Consider enhancing your skills and knowledge in other areas too, such as project management (PRINCE2 or equivalent), risk management or even training qualifications, such as the level 3 Award in Education and Training, and Certificate for Deliverers of Conflict Management. All of these will go towards promoting you as a highly skilled, diverse and employable security professional, enabling you to demonstrate to potential employers that you have more than an SIA licence, have invested in yourself and developed beyond the general baseline of industry requirements.
HAVE YOU GOT WHAT IT TAKES?
Threat assessment, forward planning and anticipation of the unexpected are important aspects of all planning, and administration and logistics are among the most critical aspects of the task once the aim has been established. The principles of prior preparation and planning practised in the military provide a sound background for all CP tasks. The ability to communicate easily with the client, sound general knowledge and an awareness of current affairs are invaluable assets, as is a quiet sense of humour.
Choosing a course
For anyone wishing to enter the industry, the quality of the instructors and the training they deliver is important. Reputation is everything in the CP industry and being trained by a recognised expert helps students. However, the downside of this is that reputable trainers will not automatically pass everyone who attends a course – something that should be considered before paying for expensive courses.
It is also important to consider the course content. A good example of this is whether firearms training is necessary or not. In the majority of CP tasks, firearms will not be carried and there are very few countries that allow the carriage of firearms by non-military/police personnel. Generally, only those with operational experience of weapon handling will be engaged on a contract where the use of a weapon might be necessary to protect a client. If the carriage of firearms is necessary, even the more experienced operators will require refresher training with the weapon they’ll carry before an operational deployment.
The majority of work that a newly qualified CP operator can expect is relatively low-risk tasks in the UK or in more benign environments. It is therefore important to consider course content carefully before you spend your hard-earned money, and to seek advice on the training that will suit your background and expectations. There are also online networking and forum sites available where you can seek advice from others in the sector, an example of which is CP World.
There are many courses on offer that will give you directly applicable training; there are also courses that give you invaluable background/supporting information and skills, which will be viewed by potential employers as worthy knowledge in this area.
Short (one day to two weeks) courses in, e.g., health and safety, fire risk assessment, fire safety, search training, physical intervention, substance awareness, handcuffing, survival training, hostile environment awareness training, travel awareness and defence techniques, detecting deceit, and understanding stewarding at spectator events, will give you a good background knowledge before you progress to more in-depth and specific training. Alternatively, these courses can be seen as professional development for an employment role you already hold. Some courses, such as health and safety, can be undertaken online, and may require just a few hours of study (including an assessment of your understanding). Costs will vary, as many of the courses are privately run.
Next comes a range of relatively short part-time further education courses, giving you a recognised qualification, which would then allow you to progress to a higher level of study. FE courses include, for example, an NVQ level 2 in Spectator Safety, which would take between 8 and 12 months to complete, or an NVQ level 3 in providing security, emergency and alarm systems, which could take between six months and two years. Many of these courses have flexible study options, so you could, if you prefer, study them intensively, full-time, over a period of four or five weeks. For some courses at this level, you may be expected to have undertaken a First Aid at Work course and/or have an SIA licence (see earlier). Costs typically start at around £250.
Apprenticeships (see below) are growing in this sector and may typically cover areas such as static guarding, patrol guarding, reception duties, retail security and operating/studying CCTV. Apprenticeships are also likely to incorporate how to handle key data, such as hard-copy documents, and how to keep accurate records. As a workplace apprentice, you are likely to find it easier to progress to a much higher (perhaps managerial) role within the company.
Moving further towards higher education, BTEC level 4 courses begin to encompass some of the more managerial roles within the sector. (Please note, however, that the government has announced its intention to scrap BTECs in 2024. Having said that, in light of the negative reaction to this decision it looks like the most popular BTEC courses will continue to be offered, so you will need to check carefully with training providers how any security-related BTECs you are interested in might have been affected.) For now, though, a Security Management BTEC is likely to provide a comprehensive insight into topics such as the role of the manager, current/key legislation, security technology, crime management and prevention, and instigating crime-reduction initiatives. A course like this would typically cost around £2,000 and could be undertaken intensively over several days of full-time study.
A foundation degree within a related security/close protection topic (e.g. Security Risk Management) may count towards a BA or master’s degree. That said, if you can prove that you have gained relevant experience in the military, you may be able to move straight on to studying at master’s level. It’s always worth checking and making your Service experience explicit when you are seeking courses.
It is good general advice to look around and compare what different courses have to offer. Most importantly, seek advice from anyone you know who is already working in the sector and find out who are currently the most respected training providers. Try to attend security seminars and briefings, where you can meet others already working in the sector and the companies who are likely to employ or subcontract to you when you have qualified.
CLOSE PROTECTION APPRENTICESHIPS Apprenticeship opportunities are increasing in this sector and may typically cover areas such as static guarding, patrol guarding, reception duties, retail security and operating/studying CCTV. Apprenticeships are also likely to incorporate how to handle key data, such as hard-copy documents, and how to keep accurate records. As a workplace apprentice, you are likely to find it easier to progress to a much higher (perhaps managerial) role within the company. Use your favourite search engine to find out more, or click here to browse options near you.
Close protection top-up training from the SIA
On 1 April 2022, the SIA introduced an updated close protection qualification for new applicants to the sector. The updated qualification features four new units, covering:
bespoke physical intervention skills
knowledge of door supervisor responsibilities (including protecting vulnerable people)
legislation, threat and risk management
personal skills, surveillance awareness, search procedures, foot drills, venue security, journey management reconnaissance, and preparing and carrying out a close protection assignment.
In addition, the existing units that cover the theoretical and practical aspects of working as a close protection operative have been refreshed.
From October 2022, the SIA introduced top-up training for close protection operatives who apply to renew their SIA licence. This takes five days to complete.
Click here to find out more about changes to the training you need for an SIA licence.
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on this website.
Finding a job
Most CP operators are self-employed and contracted to security and risk management companies. Commercial contracts can run from days to months, and are agreed between the client and the security company. A CP operator will sign their own contract with the company. Networking is vital, and an individual’s reputation for reliability and experience are critical to his or her chance of getting further work and progressing to the more lucrative, longer-term contracts. Local knowledge, both for tasks in the UK and overseas, is essential for many contracts, where orientation and familiarity are vital.
Very few training providers can guarantee work in the CP sector because the industry simply isn’t geared to permanent payroll employment, and even subcontract work can be ‘feast or famine’. It is also difficult to assess the ability of an individual until they have been seen and tested on a course. So beware of companies that promise too much and be wary of those that offer too little. There is currently a shortage of female CP operatives, who are in particular demand for guarding female principals, family members and children, especially in some cultures and environments.
In conclusion …
A CP qualification, and subsequent good practice and valuable experience in its application, can open many doors. Many CPOs will openly state that having this background has developed them personally, and the qualities and varied opportunities that come with it have made them more employable. It has led to employment with government departments, commercial companies and individuals in a variety of roles, such as risk management, threat awareness, crisis management, design consultancy, project management, management and oversight of individuals and teams providing security, to name but a few.
Furthermore, on a personal level it provides self-confidence, diplomacy and interpersonal skills, improves organisational and planning abilities, and instils an ability to see the bigger picture and understand strategic viewpoints. In addition, experienced CPOs will openly state that they are able to relate to and liaise with people on different levels, from those lower down in the security industry to the movers, shakers and decision-makers higher up, not afraid to offer well-thought-out and structured answers, or act as the ‘voice of reason’ and sense at all levels. Finally, CPOs are some of the few who are able to fill the gap between the operational aspects of the industry and the theoretical professionals.
To view our full list of close protection training courses click here