Guidelines For Choosing Wisely
If you are a seasoned, professional operator or even if you are completely new to the industry then you know that the market is inundated with numerous training providers.
Depending on your needs and desires, there are an infinite number of choices from a vast number of training providers - ranging from providers who offer basic entry courses to those who offer more advanced Continual Professional Development (CPD) courses. The simple task of trying to select a training provider for your next course can be overwhelming, if not altogether daunting. But what choice do you have when you must take a course in order to gain entry into the close protection field or you have to stay competitive and avoid stagnation in a more demanding job market as a seasoned professional operator? How do you go about sifting through the various offerings to obtain the most value for your training dollar?
The good news is that in today’s environment, as a perspective student, you can better inform and educate yourself about the various providers and avoid the sales tactics of some unscrupulous providers who only just meet the bare minimum baseline requirements awarded by the Security Industry Authority (SIA). This article empowers you with the knowledge and tools necessary to make an informed decision about choosing a reputable training provider. With sound guidance and some due diligence, you can avoid the pitfalls of choosing a second-rate training provider and you will know what strategies to employ so that you will be able to choose your next training provider wisely.
1) Identify the Course & Your Selection Criteria
To begin your search, you should start by getting clear on the objective or purpose you have in mind for taking a course. Is it an access course or one that you want to use to enhance already existing skill-set? How much time do you have to devote to the course? Are you willing to travel, if needed, to complete the course? It is not unusual for operators to have to travel some distance for good training in most cases. How much money are you willing to invest in taking the course? With these things in mind, begin by building your own list of the type of course and the criteria that are important to you.
2) Visit Providers’ Websites & Research Reviews
Once you have a clear picture of the type of course and your reasons for taking the course, conduct online research for available providers whose offerings meet your developed list of criteria. Visit their websites and browse around to get a feel for the company. View the provider’s background, history, instructors profiles, and other information that is available through their website. See if there are any reviews from past students available on the website. However, be sure to take all the reviews and information which you obtain direct from the security providers’ website with a pinch of salt. Always question the source of the information you receive for any inaccuracies, biases, or motivations. For example, how old is the review, does the reviewer have an affiliation or connection with the provider, does the reviewer have some personal motivation for writing the good review (i.e. wanting to stay in good graces with the security trainer for future job opportunities), are you able to speak with the reviewer directly to verify the information in the review? This applies equally to good as well as bad reviews. For instance, is a bad review written by a disgruntled student? Why is he or she disgruntled? Was the provider overselling its service and falsely luring students in with future offers of employment prospects? This type of research can uncover a treasure trove of information which will avoid future problems, if the operator is willing to undertake some initial due diligence.
4) Use Industry Forums & Resources
Now that you have a good idea of who is providing what in line with your needs and requirements, you can further refine your quest to find the right training provider by seeking advice from professionals within the industry. Many groups and forums currently exist to search and ask for information, including groups such as the Facebook group 'Raising Standards Within Close Protection, The British Bodyguard Association Forum, and the Close Protection Domain Forum, the latter of which is headed up by Ted Pancry. Ted, along with his team of industry professionals, are currently putting together the most in depth report on current training providers that has ever been published in the industry. The report is expected to be released in the summer of 2014. With this invaluable report, perspective students will have one-stop shop document which will provide them an unbiased and objective resource to use in deciding which providers to choose from.
5) Ask Industry Professionals
Aside from the groups and forums, you should also see if the providers you have in mind have surpassed National Occupational Standards and have gained endorsements from industry experts. For example, industry expert, Richard J. Aitch, provides an immeasurably valuable resource to all operators who face the proposition of which provider to go with for their next training. His website www.cpbook.co.uk has a list of these providers, who are also referenced on his current industry standard book and publication 'Close Protection: A Closer Observation Of The Protection Equation” Other industry experts you might consider engaging are: Tom Richmond of Security Advisor, and Simon Morgan of Trojan Consulting, both thoroughly knowledgeable guys in their respective roles. When engaging these industry professionals and forums, have your course requirements and selection criteria in mind and get feedback on course instructors, materials, and post-course support and aftercare to gauge the quality of the provider.
6) Call Short-listed Providers & Put Them to the Test
Now that you have developed a more refined knowledge of providers and their reputations in the industry, browse your initial list of providers and see if there are any that you can exclude from further consideration altogether based on bad reviews, unethical business practices, or because of any other feedback you obtained through the forums or from industry professionals. Your short-list might now include 3-5 providers. Call these providers directly and ask more directed and focused questions. Possible areas of inquiry for you to delve into may include:
▪ Duration of course The majority of training providers adhere to the SIA standards and there is no magic number for how long a course should be. However, that said, when selecting a course consider whether the course subject matter or amount of course materials are conducive to being taught in the time period the provider suggests. For example, for a16-day CP training, you might want to ask the provider to give you a detailed breakdown of exact subjects per number of days so that you can make a better assessment. If you are still uncertain about the appropriate duration for a given course, the forums and industry experts’ feedback can both be great sources to test this.
▪ Instructors’ Background & Qualifications Instructors are a crucial component of training courses and can often make or break the calibre of the course. For this reason, it is always advised to ascertain exactly who the instructors for the course will be during your anticipated course dates. Some training providers have ad hoc trainers based on availability and certain instructors may not be available for your course. While other providers may have a dedicated cadre of instructors for each and every course offered, regardless of your selected date. Additionally, seek as much information as possible about the qualifications of the instructors who will be teaching your course. Unfortunately, some providers are not transparent about who the exact instructors are or will make generalised categorisations on their instructor qualifications. For example, the provider may only have one ex-Special Forces instructor but will unscrupulously categorise their lot of trainers as “ex Special Forces instructors”. When you make your telephone contact with the providers, ask if it would be possible to speak with the instructor in addition to the sales representative for the course to get a better idea of the offerings and course quality and content.
▪ Course Content & Quality When deciding between providers consider the course content and how varied the course curriculum is. For instance, do they offer a good mix of practical versus theoretical training by combining classroom knowledge with real-life practice? Do they possess the equipment and resources to run real world situations such as advanced driver training, hands on medical support, and live fire scenarios? Inquire about each of these aspects of the course to ascertain the actual content and quality of the training being offered.
▪ Course Costs Because costs can be lumped together, it is always a good idea to get a detailed breakdown of what exactly is included in the price of the course. For instance, does the cost of the course include food, accommodation, travel, insurance, cost of certification? Be vigilant about the costing structure so that you are not caught off guard by additional expenses. If any part of the costs for the course will be covered by funding sources such as the Enhanced Learning Credits (ELCs) system, ensure that the training provider can and will accept this form of payment as some may not have this capacity. If you are not eligible for ELCs, check with your current employer to see if they might cover the cost, particularly if the course it is relevant to your on-going job duties.
▪ Course Evaluations & Student References Good providers always have students evaluate their course at the end of the training. This is why it is a good idea to ask whether you can see the evaluations of former students for your given course. Ask the provider if they make this information public. If they do not, inquire as to why they do not make it available since this will give you good insight into their business practices. If a provider does not have the evaluations available for some reason, ask them to provide you with 3-5 references of former students that you can speak with direct to verify providers’ claims.
▪ Aftercare & Support It should be noted from the outset that, unfortunately, not very many providers offer intensive after-care or support so the onus falls on the individual operator to develop their own careers through memberships in various professional organisations, forums, and groups. Notwithstanding this, always ask what exact type of aftercare the provider does offer. What are the protocols and processes are for post-course support? What form does the post-course aftercare take? Be very cautious of any provider who offers you employment or job opportunities after their training. This is another tactic that is commonly used to lure students to sign-up for courses but it rarely ends up being the case. Again, use the forums, social media groups, and industry experts to verify the purported offers of aftercare support from the providers.
▪ Why them? Finally, you may ask the provider point blank what sets them apart from their competition. Ask them for 3 reasons why you should select them as your provider and gauge the quality of the answers you receive. Take note whether it is another sales pitch by the provider or whether they can genuinely communicate to you their true value and expertise, backed by their performance and results.
In summary, it can be a daunting experience to find a reputable training provider to help you achieve your career goals. However conducting due diligence, engaging industry forums and professionals, while asking targeted poignant questions of providers themselves can help to demystify the process. The checklist below summarises the advice provided in this article to help you choose an appropriate training provider:
- Identify the type of course you need
- Identify your key selection criteria (geographical location, price, duration, cost, etc.)
- List 5-7 possible training providers who meet your course requirement & criteria
- Visit websites of these 5-7 training providers
- Gather information on each provider and be sure to read the student reviews, if available online
- Check your list again after you have researched all of the selected pool of providers to see if your research thus far warrants that you eliminate any
- Visit industry forums and gather intel on each of the providers
- Check to see if the provider is mentioned in the report by Ted Pancry at CP Domain Forum (Available September 2014)
- Check the reviews section on the website www.cpbook.co.uk to see if the provider is on Richard Aitch’s list
- Engage industry professionals to gain feedback on the providers
- Go back to your list again and eliminate providers based on research and feedback
- Compile a list of your top 3-5 providers
- Compile a list of questions to ask each provider and give them a call. When possible arrange to speak to an instructor, in addition to the sales department or directors.
- Ask for phone numbers of former students who can serve as credible sources and contact the student direct. Good providers will give access to any student, if the student is happy with this and not just a few handpicked ones.
Following the advice and steps contain in this article will ensure that the you are on the right path to being armed with the right knowledge and information so that you can select a quality training provider for your next course. As a final parting comment, training courses are a great resource for expanding your network. It is always a good idea to stay in contact before, during, and after the course with the provider. Additionally, you should ensure your CV is up to date and is in a standard security industry friendly format. Most good training providers will help with this. Finally, collect contacts details of the other students on the course and stay in touch, as a way to pass on work leads and other assistance when needed.
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