By Jake Allen
These days determining where to invest in training can be a tough decision. In the decade since 9/11 the training industry for law enforcement, security and overseas contractors has seen exponential growth. Schools and academies have popped up all over the world offering specific tactical courses such as firearms, defensive driving, and close protection, or anti-piracy. In addition to these tactical curriculums you also have a wide range of planning, preparedness and response courses. Many universities and colleges have even gotten into the arena and now offer full-term courses and degrees in security, risk and crisis management. So, there seems to be no shortage of ways to spend your hard-earned money on training. The hard part is often deciding where the value lies.
From a job-seeker’s perspective you need to be asking yourself which training and certifications will make you the most competitive in the eyes of potential future employers. Below are 5 critical considerations when planning your next investment in training. To make it easy to remember I’ve used the acronym T.R.A.I.N.
You’ve probably heard the old adage that the key to life is timing. That is certainly true in your career planning when it comes to training. The timing of when you conduct training is critical. Here’s why:
As we all know, certain specific skills are perishable. Meaning, if you don’t use them frequently you run the risk of losing their effectiveness—this is true for everything from basic marksmanship to advanced language training. Let’s say you take a course in January but don’t put the new skills to use until December. You will have lost at least some of what you learned. Try to time your training to occur just before the application of the new skills you have just learned.
The added benefit of this approach is that when you are paying for training yourself you will more quickly get a return on your investment. Ideally you will conduct the training and roll straight into a paying job that will help you reimburse yourself for those expenses.
Another timing consideration is to look for the latest and greatest updates to certifications. Ask around to see if the certification is likely to go through any upcoming modifications or upgrades. Just like buying a new car, you want to know what next year’s model will include so you can decide if it’s worth the wait.
It should go without saying that any training should be conducted in a realistic way that closely mimics the way you will apply the skills in the ‘real world’. So beware of courses and programs that do not offer realistic scenarios, modules, drills or simulations. Drills with paint-ball guns may have their place, but unless that’s how you are going to deploy it falls well short of simulating real operational scenarios.
Look for a curriculum that offers a high ratio of practice to theory. At least 70% of the total hours of training or education should be in practical application scenarios with only about 30% being spent on theory. Of course, this varies with different topics but the point is that you can’t learn to drive a 5000 lb. up-armored SUV while sitting in a classroom. Sure, it helps to get an understanding of the physics and vehicle dynamics, and maybe to watch some videos of correct and incorrect application of the techniques. But in the end you’re only really going to learn when you get behind the wheel. And make sure that once you are there the program forces you to realistically duplicate real-world scenarios.
If a detailed course outline is not published online then ask to see one. See if you can count up the hourly ratio of theory vs. practical application. Another great indicator of realism is to inquire about the credentials of the instructors or trainers. While there is no guarantee that real world experience will translate to a realistic training experience, if the staff does not have in-depth experience in the field they will have no hope of duplicating it in a training environment. In other words, it pays to ask a lot of questions.
A – Aligned
Aligning your training choices with your career goals is probably the hardest aspect of the planning process. This is because most people never take the time to clearly define their career goals. You need to establish near and long-term goals, checkpoints or waypoints for your career. Then seek out training that will help you reach those checkpoints. Develop clear one-, three- and five-year plans by writing down where you want to be a year from now, three years from now and five years from now. What kind of job will you have? How much do you want to be earning? What industries will you be serving? What geographies? Once you have a clear plan you can then seek specific training and certifications that will help you reach those targets.
Too often, job seekers sign up for training based on what they like to do rather than what they need to do to help them advance their career. I mean, who doesn’t want to take a 4-day advanced handgun course? But is that certificate going to really get you short-listed for the next job? Maybe, maybe not, it just depends upon the career path have charted for yourself. If you are applying for jobs as a firearms instructor then it’s probably money well spent. But if you’re applying for almost any other kind of deployable job you would be better served spending your time and money towards an EMT-I certification because that is something that is in demand at the moment.
In today’s ever-more-globalized job market you should seek training from organizations that are internationally recognized. Note I did not simply say, “large and well known.” Well known is not the same as “well respected,” and bigger is not necessarily better. Then again, if the school is too small you run the risk of receiving a certification that may not be valued by future employers. Ask yourself: Are you primarily seeking knowledge or does the certification ultimately weigh heavily in your career planning?
One way to think about this is to consider that there are thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S. where you can receive a bachelor’s degree. Almost all those schools will have a science department or an engineering department. You can learn the basics of any subject at almost any school you choose. But only a few are in the Ivy League. There is only one Stanford. See what I mean? Certainly you will pay more for the brand. Is it worth it? Maybe. It all comes back to your career goals. Security and law enforcement training is a very broad subject. Each specific discipline has several schools or programs that are highly respected. Some are known for firearms, others for driving or investigations or homeland security or overseas contracting. Some are preferred by certain sectors like oil and gas, or aid and development. In other words, your homework starts even before your next course begins.
Longevity can be a good measuring stick here as well. There are certainly some newer schools that are high quality, but more often those that have been around for five or more years have stood the ultimate test: time. Older, more-established programs will have a higher number of alumni and a larger number of returning clients. That all generally translates to a solid reputation throughout a particular industry.
N – Networking
The power of networking is supremely important, yet it often goes overlooked when job seekers are assessing training schools, academies and programs. Let’s say you are considering three different sources for training. Each has their merits, good reputation, solid staff and curriculum, realistic training, etc. Yet, one of them offers a larger post-training alumni network or a chance to meet more people before, during and after training. I personally weigh this factor very highly because, like it or not, we live in a who-you-know world.
In this industry your reputation means almost everything, which is why networking is critical. The community of security contractors, particularly in the overseas market, is small enough that your reputation, good or bad, will precede you almost anywhere you go. Bring your “game” to the tradecraft schoolhouse just like you do in the field and people will remember you. Keep in mind the people you are training with will likely be ones you see down range and may even be in a position to offer you work later. That one contact you make at a training course could be pivotal in your career.
Deciding what training you need and where best to receive it is a decision you should not take lightly. Spend your money wisely, and ensure your training furthers your career goals. Keeping T.R.A.I.N. in mind, you now have a framework for considering what options are best for you.