In the best of times, hiring people is a challenging proposition. But how would you have to fill 5,000 positions in just a few months?
Jane Greene is CEO of Aeroguard Group, one of three companies that will together provide security services at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Aeroguard and its partners must recruit and train an army of 5,000 temporary security workers before the Games start in February. Those employees, who will operate the metal detectors and scour bags for banned items, will be responsible for the safety of thousands of athletes, VIPs and visitors who attend each event.
Ms. Greene believes a safe and well-run security operation, not unlike an athlete's gold-medal performance, will attract worldwide attention and help her firm expand into new markets such as the United States and Europe.
Ms. Greene joined us earlier to talk about her business, staffing and the run-up to the Olympics.
Dave Michaels, globeandmail.com: My first question is about how the hiring process is going. I understand the best person to ask is Todd Severson, the project director for Contemporary Security Canada, the joint operation that includes your company, Aeroguard. I e-mailed him and here is his response: "We have had tremendous success in our hiring progress, and should be wrapping up our recruitment campaign ahead of schedule. For our remaining open positions, we are looking for people with previous experience in X-ray screening or team leadership."
Jane, let's talk about the partnering process for this gargantuan effort. How did you go about picking your business partners? What kind of advice can you offer others who are considering something similar?
Jane Greene: For the partnering process Aeroguard did some extensive research into previous Games to see who had played in the security and event services space. We also became very involved in understanding who the key players would be through contacts at VANOC (the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee), and through other avenues.
The advice I would offer about selecting a partner is that you need to ensure their reputation and ability to execute is very strong. Also, we made sure that there would be a good fit between the partners, and that we established a good level of trust prior to "jumping in with both feet." After selecting our partners, we entered into a legal agreement (a letter of intent), which clarified roles and responsibilities and expectations under the relationship. This was a key document in setting the stage for our ongoing relationship.
From Jerry Proctor of Canada: Will Aeroguard only staff the games with successful local applicants? How can I apply for this position? Thank you.
Jane Greene: Contemporary Security Canada is targeting the majority of the Olympics Security hiring in the Lower Mainland and has established a large recruiting centre at 333 Terminal St. in Vancouver which candidates can go to for a "one stop" job application experience. In addition, as is indicated in today's Globe, CSC is holding hiring fairs in Edmonton this weekend and Calgary on Monday and Tuesday. We are very close to being completely hired, although we are looking for experienced X-ray operators. Applicants can find more information and apply for Olympic Security jobs online at www.hireme2010.com.
In addition, Aeroguard is hiring roughly 200 screener positions at Vancouver International Airport, as well as hiring for screeners in Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Bilingual candidates are preferred for all positions. For more information on current positions, refer to our website, www.aeroguard.ca, or candidates can send their resume to email@example.com
Dave Michaels, globeandmail.com: How do you monitor quality control, with so many moving parts in such a huge process? What kinds of safeguards have you taken? How many meetings?
Jane Greene: Aeroguard is registered with the International Organization for Standardization and has a comprehensive quality program that will assist us in keeping continuously focused on quality. In terms of project management, we have a team of project planners who keep us on our project plan and ensure we hit key milestones.
In order to keep the project on track and meet multiple priorities, we have common project management, a detailed project plan and control tracking, tiered communications methods involving inter-team meetings. Planning and communication are the keys - both with the partners, the management team, and the client.
From Nikhil Bhagwan, from British Columbia: Congratulations on winning the contract for 2010. In downturn of our economy, what are some of the ways a small (50-100 employee range) security firm might be able to either keep revenues stable or expand? Would they need to add value added services? Would they want to advertise more? Should they expand by acquiring rival companies when they are cheap? What sectors should they focus more on? What techniques in your opinion would be effective? Thank you
Jane Greene: Thanks, Nikhil. Lots of interesting questions.
In an economic downturn, I think that any business should really focus on doing what they do very well. If you spend money, it should be on improving or differentiating your business. Spend money on improving your staff and ensure you have strong management supervising those staff. I believe that being the best at what you do is the best way to sell your services. We are in a very strong industry that generally hasn't seen the same downturn as other industry sectors. If anything, there is a rising demand for security services - you just have to look for new markets for what you are already doing. I think organic growth or partnering tends to be a better strategy in the service business.
Be the best. And win the contracts, rather than buying them.
From Douglas Wright of Canada: It is unlikely that 5,000 people can be hired from the Vancouver area. How are people hired from outside the Lower Mainland to be housed?
Jane Greene: Employees should have their own accommodations, but Contemporary Security Canada is also developing strategies regarding housing for its out-of-town workers.
Christine Mushka, globeandmail.com: How did you get into security? What interests you in this field?
Jane Greene: I personally got into the security field after having spent more than 10 years in the travel industry - most recently as president of Carlson Wagonlit Travel Canada - and the draw for me was that this business provides an important service to large clients (CATSA and the RCMP for example), and would provide an opportunity for me to make a difference in the quality of service. After all, in our business, it is about hiring the right people to fill this very important job, and managing them very well. It attracted me because it is a people business and I felt that with my experience, I could make a difference. It was also a family business and I had a strong personal interest in our success.
Dave Michaels, globeandmail.com: Was there competition from U.S. companies in securing the Olympic Games?
Jane Greene: I am not sure about interest from U.S. players in the Olympics security, but we partnered with a company that is originally from the U.S. As we understand, there was more competition from other Canadian companies in securing the security for the Olympics. It is such a large undertaking that few companies had the experience or capacity to compete.
Noel Hulsman, globeandmail.com: I understand that it's hard to find good employees at any time. Has the recession made things easier in general?
Jane Greene: Yes, the recession has certainly played in our favour in terms of finding good employees, both at the airports and for the Olympics, as there is definitely a larger pool of qualified candidates. We have found many good new employees are transitioning from other careers or industries and decided to explore the security field.
From Robert Goode of Canada: What is the average pay rate for the Olympics jobs?
Jane Greene: The wage rates range anywhere from $16 to $30 per hour. In addition, workers will get an additional bonus amount if they work all of their shifts.
Dave Michaels, globeandmail.com: What is the greatest challenge in keeping good employees?
Jane Greene: The greatest challenge is to provide continuous challenges and opportunities for growth. Employees who are compensated fairly as well as engaged, trained and mentored effectively, and given opportunities for development, tend to stay with the company. Interestingly, more than 80 per cent of our leadership team across Canada is promoted from within. We also are very proud of our diverse work force.
Dave Michaels, globeandmail.com: Well, that's all we have time for today. Thanks, Jane, for taking time from your very busy schedule for today's discussion.
Jane Greene: Thanks David for the opportunity to participate in this forum. We are always looking for great people, so if anyone is interested in entering the security field, they now have the information as to how to be part of this exciting opportunity!