Eric Perreault & Katherine Podolas – GardaWorld
When a company commits to raising the industry bar, change is often incremental, requiring patience and tenacity. So it goes for security solutions visionary GardaWorld, the Canada-headquartered global firm responsible for the protection of people, property and assets across a wide range of environments.
Security services are designed to mitigate risk, and hospital environments are among the riskiest environments for employee and patient safety. Committed to the protection of its personnel, GardaWorld customized a program for its agents who oversee physical and virtual security at healthcare facilities. They undergo specialized training in such areas as crisis prevention and nonviolent restraint. They are also incentivized to continuously enhance their skillsets.
“As long as our guards are putting their own security at risk, we’ll make sure they’re trained and understand what’s at stake,” says Eric Perreault, vice president of human resources and a 19-year veteran of GardaWorld. “The security industry didn’t used to be regulated. It dispatched guards without ever seeing a site. We’ve been a big part of changing that.”
Slowly but surely, he says GardaWorld’s efforts are bearing fruit for the security services industry in general. Through the company’s initiatives, the union overseeing security guards in Quebec has successfully pushed for, among other perks, mandatory additional training and salary bonuses for guards stationed at hospitals. The province also has upgraded the qualifications for those entrusted with such a responsibility.
But these are just a few of the many steps necessary toward what Perreault says is GardaWorld’s goal for establishing new standards of training for every industry’s specific security needs and challenges. All the better, he says, that his employer sees itself as the bellwether.
“As the industry leader, it is our responsibility to forge a vision and drive toward improved outcomes for the people behind the uniform,” he says. “Security personnel play a vital role in keeping our communities safe, and the complexity of the challenges they face is often underestimated and under-recognized.”
As security needs evolve, most of Canada’s 10 provinces now mandate that agents undergo, among other necessities, accredited training and background checks, and that the operating firms comply with stringent rules and regulations.
Perreault lauds GardaWorld for leading this wave, proactively identifying the security solutions required to address customer needs based on evolving and complex commercial challenges. In addition to health care, the firm serves airports, academia, banks, shopping centers, utilities and municipalities, and recognizes that one approach doesn’t fit all.
“By meeting with each client, we gain an understanding of their business needs and risk mitigation goals,” he tells Vision. “We then do a risk assessment, giving us the complete picture of the assets and people that they’re trying to protect. Based on these needs we then determine the training our agents will require for the assignment.”
GardaWorld has at least one training campus in each province and all its agents go through training that includes the legalities of modern security and the physical and mental skills necessary to prevent or diffuse situations. Another security-services industry veteran, Katherine Podolas, oversees the campuses as national director of training.
“It’s more than just bringing a security presence on site”, says Podolas, who directed security operations in Edmonton from 2011 to 2022 before relocating to Montreal. “Essentially, GardaWorld’s agents become ambassadors for our clients. Together we partner to formulate a strategy that meets the need with respect to a particular business model.”
Such was the case, Podolas explains, at an unnamed mall beset by shoplifting and unruly guests in the concourse and parking lot. The need for security was obvious yet couldn’t seem Orwellian as a mall is supposed to be a welcoming environment.
So, the mall management conferred with GardaWorld, which knew well the challenges that retailers had been dealing with throughout North America. Through a holistic approach, GardaWorld agents secured the site by having a presence through the full shopper experience. They greeted and assisted shoppers and store personnel, proactively engaging to offer service while remaining vigilant and prepared to address undesirable behavior.
“We refer to our services as crime prevention through customer service,” Podolas says. “We protect the reputation of the client.”
A shared commitment
Ensuring positive morale among the agents goes a long way in how they distinguish themselves as security professionals, Perreault goes on say. To this end, he collaborates with unions covering around 60 collective bargaining agreements and works toward the agents seeing themselves as client partners.
“A few decades ago, this industry didn’t have much in the way of legislation of quality standards,” he says. “It is imperative that we keep pushing to ensure that the security industry as a whole shifts toward a more customer-oriented and servicing approach.”
With the safety and well-being of more than 25,000 Canadian employees in mind, Perrault and Podolas plan to keep evolving the security services industry from within. They’ve got a deep talent pool to recruit from with GardaWorld welcoming all applicants, and having specialized programs to attract military veterans, retired law enforcement officers and indigenous people.
By reaching out to a more diverse workforce and offering candidates a role that matches their skills and providing the training to advance, Perreault and Podolas say GardaWorld is indeed setting the security industry’s benchmark. But, they emphasize, risk mitigation also means having the right tools.
Technology has become indispensable on the security front and as a full-service company, GardaWorld can also advise clients on access-control devices, motion detectors, cameras, alarms and other virtual means for enhancing safety. It’s just another reminder, Perreault says, of how the security services industry continues to evolve and GardaWorld staying ahead of the curve.
While there’s no mistaking GardaWorld’s uniformed agents at hospitals, airports, banks and other public places where the need for security is obvious, its security professionals also work behind the scenes providing consulting services, investigation support, advising executives on financial transfers, data security and more. On any front, Perreault stresses that security can’t be taken for granted.
“We’ve come a long way but there’s still a long way to go,” he says. “It’s not just a matter of us providing people to our clients. We provide the right people with the right training. Through our work, it is our mission to make the world a safer place by protecting people, assets and operations.”
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