Soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring, Reno-based ESI Security Services was hired by a local grocery store. Their task: manage crowded aisles, long lines and jammed parking lots due to COVID-related panic buying. As time went on, and crowds thinned due to the rise of online grocery shopping, ESI Security’s primary job morphed into reminding customers to wear face coverings and stay 6 feet apart. It wasn’t long before ESI Security CEO Mike Hendi, who declined to disclose the name of the grocery store, realized the company couldn’t schedule the same group of security guards at that store for very long. “We didn’t have any incidents where it actually went physical, but there was definitely a lot of verbal abuse,” Hendi said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “We literally had to switch people around every three weeks because people just could not do it, it’s just a lot of abuse. We decided, we’re not going to jeopardize any group or any team for that long of a period of time.”
Mike Hendi, CEO of Reno-based ESI Security Services, says his company’s revenue was down 60% in 2020 compared to 2019. Courtesy Photo
Enforcing face coverings is one of the many new challenges the security industry has faced over the past calendar year. Here’s another: In addition to signing in visitors to buildings, many security guards are now tasked with checking temperatures at the door, and turning away anyone who makes their thermometer flash red. For security providers like ESI, perhaps the biggest challenge is simply keeping up with demand. After all, along with grocery stores, restaurants, retailers (from big-box to small shops) and other businesses are hiring security guards so their own employees do not have to impose COVID restrictions. ‘EXTREMELY CHALLENGING’ ESI Security, for one, has struggled to not only hire enough workers but also retain them. This February, for example, the company hired 27 people and 11 have already quit, Hendi said, noting that some move on for higher wages at another firm while others change careers altogether. Hendi also noted the application and hiring process for security professionals takes longer than many other industries, pointing to state-mandated tests, fingerprints and background checks that are required. “We can’t just hire right off the street; it’s a long, drawn-out process to get people through the door,” Hendi said. “Even if you get, for example, 100 applicants a month, out of the 100 applicants, maybe 20 people are qualified. And out of those 20 people, maybe you’ll get three people that actually go through the process. So, it makes it extremely challenging.” ESI Security, which serves all of Northern Nevada, has roughly 400 employees as of mid-April, a far cry from the 1,300 security professionals the company had on staff in the summer of 2019.
A security guard employed by Reno-based ESI Security Services stands inside the warehouse of one of its clients. Courtesy Photo
This, Hendi said, is largely because the company lost its segment of business that works security at conventions, festivals, concerts and special events, all of which were canceled after COVID hit. Consequently, the company’s revenue in 2020 was down 60% compared to 2019, he noted. If events return this summer as expected, ESI Security would see an increase in revenue and a significant need to increase its staff size — meaning the company is “aggressively hiring,” Hendi said. While 95% of ESI’s employees are full-time and overtime-eligible, they are looking to hire both full-time and part-time/weekend and/or seasonal shifts. “We’re knocking on all doors, we’re trying to recruit the right people,” he continued. “Our clients depend on us to secure their construction site, to secure their warehouse, to check-in their staff … it’s across the board. If I had 100 (qualified) people right now, I can put them to work full-time.” ‘NO DOWN PERIOD’ Another company on a hiring spree is Allied Universal Security Services. Since March 2020, the security provider has hired more than 100,000 people nationwide, said Brenda Studley, Allied Universal’s VP of recruiting. “There’s been a really big demand in our industry and for our company,” Studley said. “We have a lot of new business and also growth within our existing clients.” So much so that Allied Universal — which has more than 265,000 employees and serves 50,000 client sites across the globe — says its revenue in 2020 was $8.5 billion, a 13.3% increase compared to 2019.
With headquarters based in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and Santa Ana, California, Allied Universal serves 50,000 client sites in the U.S., as well as Canada, Mexico and the U.K. Courtesy Photo
“During the pandemic there’s been an increase for temperature checkers and even at vaccination sites,” Studley said. “With my team in recruiting, we have openings every week. There has been no down period.”
Zooming in on Northern Nevada, Allied Universal is looking to hire more than 250 security professionals this spring. The company says its Reno branch currently safeguards more than 45 sites with more than 500 security workers in the region. To boost recruiting efforts and offer flexibility, the company has been holding drive-thru and walk-in hiring events at its Reno location at 1201 Terminal Way. Allied also holds virtual hiring events and has an online application. Studley said the company is recruiting for all shift types and experience levels, with pay rates ranging from $15.25 to $19 per hour. It marks the second major hiring event the company has conducted in Reno; last summer, it sought to fill 500 positions in the area. According to previous reports, the majority of the openings are for full-time jobs. Zooming out, in 2020, there were about 1 million security guards in the U.S., earning a median hourly wage of $14.93, or $31,050 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Studley said Allied Universal will pay some armed security guards in competitive markets as much as $25 an hour ($52,000 a year). Many of those have years of experience or come into the industry with military backgrounds, from veterans transitioning out of the military to active in the Army Reserve or National Guard. Studley said the company has also seen a rise in “second career people” applying for security jobs during the past year. After all, unlike security work, the pandemic led to waves of layoffs, hour reductions and pay cuts in many industries. “Whether it’s law enforcement or hospitality workers or teachers or retail employees, we do attract a lot of people looking for a second career opportunity,” she said. “Or even just a second job.”