It’s time to rethink executive protection training

June 20, 2018 - By Christian West

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When I look across the EP industry, I’m sometimes struck by how much things have changed over the last 30 years. Of course, the continuing evolution of relevant tech is one obvious example, but there are plenty of others.

Take our clients, for instance. We’re doing more things for more clients in more places than ever before, and it’s clear that both corporate and HNW clients are getting smarter about EP. They’re developing more experience with it, have tried programs that work and don’t work, and are increasingly discerning. That’s all good.

Corporate EP programs rarely fail due to faulty SOPs or poor operational planning – although these are also things that can make or break a program. For better or for worse, the top reason that most EP programs succeed or fail is one thing: people. Both the people that face the principal during details and the people who manage these frontline people.

Corporations are now demanding different kinds of agents than they did 30 years ago. They are looking for better, more well-rounded agents than what was common back when I started out. The days when a background in the military, government or law enforcement were enough are over. Yes, such backgrounds are still helpful – but cultural and personality fit is equally critical.

Which leads me to think of something that hasn’t changed much over the last 20-30 years – and to the point of this blog: EP training. While our industry, our clients, and our programs have changed fundamentally over the last three decades, it seems to me that EP training is still pretty much the same now as it was 10, 15, or 20 years ago. What’s up with that?

The six hard skills of EP: Necessary but not sufficient

If you look at the courses offered by EP schools both now and 20 years ago, it’s all about hard skills.

Pretty much everyone is teaching the same basic skills that I learned when I first went to EP school. There are variations on all of these themes, of course, but most melodies sound like the same old broken record. Here, very briefly, are the main hard skill topic areas that I learned in the day. The wording might be a little different than what my American friends are used to hearing (Hey, I learned this stuff in Europe way back in the 80s) – but I think you’ll be able to translate into something familiar to your own training:

1. Medical: Call it tactical medicine, triage, advanced first aid. Throw in some CPR. Whatever you call it, all EP pros need to be able to keep the principal and other people alive at least until the ambulance gets there. We all need training in these skills – and we need to keep them fresh.

2. Escort: This is all about formations, conducting movements, countering ambushes and, basically, getting the principal safely from A to B. You know the drill (hopefully), and when to do what.

3. CQB: Close Quarter Battle (CQB) might sound a little corny to my American friends, but this is what we called it in Europe back in the day. Call it defensive tactics or whatever makes you happy, but let’s agree that this might the “hardest” of all the hard skills. This covers everything from clearing the room to clearing out of Dodge when evacs are the best option. This is also where skills in martial arts, using weapons if relevant, being in shape and PT also matter.

4. Search: Students of this topic area learn search techniques for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and how to discover covert listening and recording devices through what we now refer to as Technical Security Counter Measures, or TSCM. The subject matter in this category also helps students learn how to do quick assessments of rooms, buildings, and larger venues.

5. Driving: High-speed maneuvers, evasive driving skills, and all that other fun stuff. You’ll probably never use it, but it’s a necessary skill and makes life behind the wheel safer for everyone.

6. Communication: In the old days you needed to know how to use walkie-talkies and radios. Now you need to know that, and how to use emails and apps on your phone. Same same? Not really.

Now, all of the above skill sets are necessary, and it makes complete sense that these are all at the core of EP training. But let’s consider how traditional EP training falls short in their focus on these six hard skills.

There’s no way you can master all of the six hard EP skills within the span of the typical five or 10-day EP course.

Unless you start at a pretty high level in many of these skills, you’re not going to gain EP proficiency in them in a few days. And if you’re not proficient in them, how useful are you to an EP team or a principal?

Want to learn how to shoot well enough to do more good than harm in a crisis situation? You’d better have some prior training on the shooting range. Want to learn how to apply krav maga techniques to EP-specific CQB situations? You’d better have perfected your moves and put in your hours on the mat before you sign up for EP training. You’re completely out of shape and you want to pass the PT test after 10 days? You’ve never had any first aid training?

I could go on, but I think you get the point: to get real value from any advanced – or even any introductory – EP course, at least some mastery of these skills is absolutely necessary prerequisite.

The problem with a lot of teaching – not only EP training – is that there’s one curriculum for a very diverse group of learners. Some have all of the prerequisite skills, others have some or none. Someone once told me that teaching is like bowling: you try to roll the ball down the middle, and you hope you hit all the pins on the sides, too. Sometimes it works. Usually, nobody bowls straight strikes for very long.

The same is true for EP training. The most pertinent prerequisite for most schools, however, is whether you can cough up the tuition money.

Hard skills are necessary but not sufficient for success in today’s world of corporate EP. It’s the soft skills that set the great agents apart from good and the poor – and best predict success in the industry.

We’ve written a few blogs about the soft skills that we like to see in EP agents, so we won’t go into them all here. You can click on these links to read 10 personality traits + social chameleon.

Identifying candidates with the right soft skills is essential for effective recruitment – but EP schools do little to help us in this critical task. They don’t filter applicants based on them. They don’t train in them. They don’t evaluate them after training.

We receive and process applications from hundreds of candidates for EP jobs every year. Many of them are graduates of EP training schools. This involves thousands of hours of work. What do we spend most of our time on?

It’s not the hard skills – these are pretty simple to define and check. We can see what kinds of jobs they’ve had before. We can also see what specific training they’ve had. Unfortunately, we can’t see how they’ve done in this training, only that they’ve paid for it and presumably showed up: most training schools provide no grading or evaluation of their graduates’ performance.

Backgrounds checks are important but not that time-consuming.

What takes a lot of time is trying to understand what makes our candidates tick. Understanding what soft skills they possess, how their personalities work – and how they would fit into the organizational culture they’d be a part of in their new job. This is another area where we get no help from EP schools at all. For one thing, soft skill development is not part of any curriculum we’ve seen. For another, the schools do nothing to evaluate their graduates’ psychological suitability to work successfully in the industry. This job is left to us – and that’s fine, that’s where we add value for our clients. Still, the clear mismatch in what EP companies are looking for and what EP schools are teaching makes us wonder whether it’s time for a paradigm shift in training.

What would an EP paradigm shift include? 3 things we’d like to see

1. Keep teaching hard skills, but require sufficient prerequisite skill levels to qualify for EP training, then modify the teaching for the corporate and HNW world

1. Medical: In an ideal world, before anyone should even apply for EP training he or she should have at least certified as an Emergency Response Technician, which requires a minimum of 40 hours of training. CPR? That’s a prerequisite for beginning the Emergency Response Training. I know we don’t live in an ideal world.

2. Escort: We don’t need the same skill sets as the secret service. Most details will never use anything near the diamond formation – we simply don’t have enough agents on shift to do this. Let’s put more focus on the tactics we use most running details for corporate clients.

3. CQB: Before qualifying for EP training, you should take and pass the PT test. You should be proficient in at least some kind of martial art – I don’t really care which one, but you should be ready to defend yourself and help your principal in close quarters if things get physical. And you should know how to shoot.

4. Search: Students still need to learn TSCM and bomb detection skills, but we now need to expand the “Search” category to include intel/research/surveillance detection in a broader sense. Again, we don’t expect introductory EP training to get people up to advanced levels in any of these things; these are specific skills that require specific training. We do think EP candidates should have some basic training in using internet searches to learn more about mission-critical issues, to research POIs and to do advances. Everyone doing EP needs to know at least a little bit about surveillance detection, counter surveillance and some basic intel gathering. Ever since Google became a verb, this also includes at least a minimum of due-diligence intelligence gathering on where you’re going, what your likely to run into and all the rest.

5. Driving: Driving is another one of those skills that people should have squared away before they start EP training. Protective and evasive driving techniques take about 3-4 days to learn. It’d be better if candidates took care of this ahead of time, so EP training can put more focus on things like managing drivers and vehicles, and learning more about the very important area of itinerary planning and travel logistics as applied to corporate EP.

6. Communication: Yes, you still need to learn about radios, but these days we use a lot of different kinds of tech. Which apps are the best for EP team communication, advance planning, and all the other things we rely on them for? Who in the corporate ecosystem do you need establish clear communication lines with? How do you do that? Again for this skill area, you can come to EP training more or less prepared. Maybe folks should read our book on corporate EP before the training starts so we can start the discussions at a higher level?

2. Put more focus on soft skills

I’ve never seen a curriculum for soft skill development, and I’m not really sure how to tackle this one within the frames of an introductory EP course. But I know it’s important.

Maybe EP training could look at some of the areas where emotional intelligence and social skills either keep EP programs on track or make them go off the rails. Maybe we can define some teachable skills around these areas. Of course, we can! Let’s put this on the thing-to-do-list, and ping me if you’ve got any experience or ideas in this area.

3. EP is a business, we work for business, and EP practitioners need some basic business understanding

I know, there aren’t too many EP agents with MBAs. But in fact, there are some. And no one is saying you need to have such an advanced degree to have success in this industry – I don’t, and I’ve done fine. But I’ve also had to learn everything I know about working for businesses and running a business the hard way – the good old trial and error method. There have been plenty of trials and plenty of errors.

EP schools teach EP, not business skills. But they need to consider where these EP skills are going to be used. And for a company like ours, the work is primarily for successful corporations and their top executives. These organizations demand things like responses to RFPs, budgets, plans, HR plans – also from EP companies. They expect our people to navigate seamlessly within their own ecosystems, and deal with not only the principal, but also with procurement departments, bean counters, executive admins and all kinds of other people in complex organizations that have their own logic and language. We need to learn how to connect and cooperate with these folks, and some basic training in this could go a long way.

I’ve seen a lot of great EP practitioners and get serious about learning more and pursue further education. Some do CPP certifications, some do degrees in criminal justice. These are all great, and really do make smart people in our industry smarter. But what I’d like to see is EP practitioners – and EP schools – also learning some more business-relevant skills. Continuing education courses tailored to EP professionals in project management would be great. So would courses or modules in presentation skills, psychology, negotiation and a lot of other things that business people typically spend time on. These are all super-relevant for people who want to have great careers in EP and corporate security, too.

Alright, if you’ve followed me this far, thanks for your perseverance. I’d really like to get some feedback on this one. Is it just me, or do other people in the industry believe we need to rethink EP training? Please reach out via social media or any kind of personal messaging!

Christian West

Founder and CEO

Christian has been active in the executive protection industry since the late 1980s, when he worked for Danish musicians who relocated to Hollywood. Upon returning to Denmark, he founded his own EP company, which he quickly grew into Scandinavia’s largest, before it was acquired by Securitas.

Christian founded AS Solution in 2003, and again in 2009 followed his international clients to the US, where he is now based. An active member of ASIS and a leader in the corporate executive protection industry, Christian has personally planned and led high-profile engagements in over 76 countries for a wide variety of corporate and high net worth individual clients, including the international roadshow for the biggest IPO in history.