Security’s Young and Restless: Strategies the New Generation of Pros Are Bringing to the Table
SSI spoke with a panel from ESA’s Young Security Professionals to discuss the generation gap and how they’re fulfilling the security needs of today’s customer.
THE RECENT record-shattering “Star Wars” revival “The Force Awakens” is as good a reminder as any that – even in a galaxy far, far away – every generation must eventually step aside and pass the torch (or lightsaber) to their more youthful successors. It’s as true for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo as it is for the many who have built up and led some of electronic security’s most successful companies. As those elders relinquish their roles they can take solace knowing if the Young Security Professionals (YSP) have anything to say about it. The Force is with the future of their businesses and the industry itself.
A group within the Electronic Security Association (ESA), YSP is a national networking program for industry professionals ages 25-45 who are managers or above in a company that designs, sells, installs and/or monitors electronic life-safety, security and/ or integrated systems. According to ESA, the purpose of YSP is to provide education, mentoring, community and support to the industry’s next generation, cultivating up-and-comers to be tomorrow’s leaders.
SSI gathered several YSP participants to speak about the obstacles and opportunities they face as the new wave of leadership within their own organizations and the industry at large. Taking part were Robert Few (Time Warner Cable IntelligentHome, New York), son of late Criticom Founder Tom Few; Sarah Jennings (QuickPass, Scottsdale, Ariz.), daughter of former Safeguard Security CEO John Jennings; Randall Renfroe (Allstate Security Industries, Amarillo, Texas); Nicole Swartwout (CallTeks Security, Phoenix); and Stephanie Wagner (ADT Security, Dallas).
As younger industry professionals, is there a generation gap in security today? What hurdles exist moving the industry forward and connecting with millennials both within and outside the business as prospective customers?
ROBERT FEW: There’s definitely a gap. Not so much with the intelligent home, because it’s really being driven by millennials today. But in the security space as a whole there’s a really large gap between the old guard and the current people coming into it, whether it be millennials, or whatever generation. This industry is still full of family businesses, where things are handed down and people step into their parents’ shoes and continue along the same track. Hopefully, they’re staying alert and aggressive to new trends to keep that company going and surviving.
One of the main things we’re trying to do with YSP and the new ESA Mentorship Program [launched November 2015] is to take all those great skills of the old guard, the people who started this industry and continue to support it today anyway they can, and let them pass down a lot of those fundamentals that don’t go away, even though your technology does, but there’s certain missions and values that need to be retained in this space. Without continuing to grow the millennials and Gen-Xers and everybody up to the retiring class, this industry will suffer. There is a gap, but I think there are great solutions.
RANDALL RENFROE: When I came into the industry, I was 20 years old. My grandfather was 70. He’d been running this business pretty much his whole life. We had the mindset we would do the stuff the old-school way until five years ago. It was crazy. We couldn’t get it out of our head [that] we were just going to be this old-school alarm company. We weren’t going to do any of this Internet of Things or anything.
The reason was we had so many people who’d worked here over 25 years. They were all in management. It did kind of affect us because Vivint and all these other companies coming through town were willing to push these newer services, and things that we weren’t pushing. It affected our business greatly. It was hard for us to get out of that rut.
I guess you could say they forced us to become a more modern company and it’s forced us to reach out and find younger people who are willing to work hard to push these things. I would say the generation gap is overwhelming in how many people don’t want to be involved in pushing the newer things. Everybody seems to be still stuck in the 1970s and 1980s and it’s hard to find younger talent to push these new services.
NICOLE SWARTWOUT: When we talk about generation gaps, I often joke that when I go to industry functions I’m conservatively the youngest person in the room by 40 years. What it comes down to is the different way we communicate, both internally and to our customers, as far as marketing goes. For our generation, we’re, “Let’s get everything fast and quick. I don’t want to read a whole paper about what type of services you do. I don’t want to read a huge content Web site. I want to see it on social media. What do you do? How does it work? I want to see a video clip.”
As a kind of reverse mentorship, we have an opportunity for those who are a bit more seasoned in the industry to learn from some of the things that we’re really good at, such as social media and being able to get rapid-fire information. That can help businesses grow. On the flipside, sometimes our willingness to get things done fast can be a millennial’s downfall. So there’s a mentorship opportunity there from those who are seasoned to help us learn what has worked in the past, why it works, why there’s that report, where these technologies were derived from and so on. It’s about collaborating with different generations and valuing both sides.
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