Whether you are a freelance protection specialist, corporate security manager or a training officer in a law enforcement agency, there are far more training opportunities out there than there are dollars in the training budget. Determining which course or provider is the right one for you is an age-old challenge and, unfortunately, making the right decision has gotten even more difficult as the number of training providers and programs being offered continues to grow on what seems like a daily basis. As with most problems, finding the right answer requires knowing the right questions to ask.
What are Your Training Needs?
Determining what those specific needs are will help narrow down which program or programs might provide the best value for your training dollar. For example, if you are a freelance protection specialist looking for additional training ahead of a short term assignment here in the US, then a course that teaches driving, shooting and protection techniques used in high risk environments is not likely to be the best use of your training time or money. In this instance, a program that focuses on strategies and tactics for small details or solo protectors and reinforces basic protection skills coupled with surveillance detection and defensive driving techniques would make much more sense.
Once you’ve identified your specific training needs, compare those to the objectives of various courses to determine which of them will best meet your specific needs. It’s also a good idea to consider what, if any, prerequisites are required. The course objectives combined with the prerequisites should provide some clear indicators of whether or not a particular course will meet both your needs and expectations. Case in point, if a tactical emergency medicine course requires that students have a basic first aid and CPR certification and the objective is to provide the skills needed to deal with gunshot wounds and other traumatic injuries, than it probably isn’t a good fit for the entry level security officer or protection specialist.
What Qualifies Them to Provide This Type of Training?
Just because someone has worked as a short order cook at an all-you-can-eat restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean they are qualified to teach someone else how to cook – even if they suddenly have access to a fully equipped gourmet kitchen. Sure, having a purpose built, multi-million dollar facility may make for more effective training, the same as having a high dollar, custom-built pistol might make you a better shooter. But the reality is that the desired end result – improved skills and increased ability – can not be guaranteed by the training site or the type of equipment on hand. In actuality, achieving the desired result hinges on the instructors and their ability to engage students, impart useful knowledge and provide skill sets which can be readily applied out in the real world. It’s not just the experience of the instructor that counts, it’s their relevant experience that makes the difference. Relevant experience is gained by having performed whatever tasks are being trained on in an environment and circumstances that are similar to those which their students operate in on a daily basis. It’s this real world experience that is the difference between knowing the theory and actually understanding how the theory applies out in the field when Mr. Murphy is there by your side. Without this that understanding it becomes a real challenge for the instructor to effectively relate the subject matter to the reality that students will face in their everyday work environment. This often leads to students walking away wondering whether or not they really learned anything useful; in turn, this creates a lack of confidence that can have dire consequences when it comes time to put that training into play.
When all is said and done, determining whether a training provider is the best qualified comes down to the four basic questions:
What relevant experience do the instructors of this specific coursehave?
How many times have each of the instructors taught this specific course?
How, and by whom, are the instructors certified?
How often are they required to recertify and are their individual certifications up-to-date?
Who, How Many, and Some Other Important Questions
Determining just what your training needs are, comparing those to course objectives/pre-requisites, and vetting the instructor qualifications are just the first steps in the selection process. The next step is to compare those programs that have made the all important short list of possible choices to further streamline the decision making. Of course, narrowing down the field requires asking more questions and gathering more information.
Two of the most important pieces of information you want to have on hand before making a final decision focus on who the provider has trained in the past and when the course was last conducted. Be especially wary of any provider who refuses to provide references because of “client confidentiality” requirements. While it is true that there are client’s out there who demand the utmost in confidentiality, they are the exception as opposed to the rule. Someone’s unwillingness or inability to provide references is a strong indication that it is time to look elsewhere for your training. Virtually every reputable training provider has satisfied students or clients that are more than willing to provide some form of reference. You may run occasionally run across a training provider that will require a signed non-disclosure agreement before providing references, which is certainly a sign that they take their client’s privacy seriously and are willing to go the extra mile to protect it. When the program was last conducted (and how often the program is run) is vitally important when you consider that tactics, techniques and even legal considerations can change dramatically in a relatively short period of time and if your going to invest the time and money into training you should expect to receive the latest, most up-to-date information.
You also want to determine what the policy is regarding course cancellations and, of course, when the last time a course was cancelled, for what reason and how much notice was given to those students registered for the course. It’s important to keep in mind, especially in today’s world, that anyone can post a course schedule on their website; actually conducting those courses is a different story altogether. While it’s understandable that unforeseeable problems may arise from time to time, the fact that someone who claims to be in the business of conducting training programs is cancelling more classes then they are actually running raises some serious red flags and should have you looking elsewhere for your training.
Other important information that you should consider before making a final decision on where to spend your training dollars should include the maximum headcount for the particular course you are interested in and the student/instructor ratio. Often times, a higher headcount translates to less actual training time, especially if the training site presents some limitations. For example, if twelve students are participating in a firearms training program and the range has just six firing lanes then, the individual student’s training time will be limited by the fact that the fact that they will have to rotating on an off the firing line off to give other students an opportunity to complete the course of fire. While having more instructors on site can alleviate certain problems, it can not make up for a shortage of space or equipment; on the other hand, a high student/instructor ratio means less individualized attention from the instructors and an increased likelihood that your expectations will not be met.
Last, but certainly not least, you really want to know exactly what type and amount of insurance coverage each of the prospective training provider carries. Now, if you consider how many training programs are conducted in this country on a daily basis, serious injuries and deaths are actually quite rare. However, when it comes to managing risk (which is what insurance is all about) the old adage “hope for the best, plan for the worst” holds true. As a rule of thumb, you should be looking for training providers to carry at least a million dollars of general liability insurance, which is distinctly different from training liability and errors and omissions policies that are intended to protect the provider from claims arising from the content of the program as opposed to events that occur while conducting the actual program. Obviously, providers that carry more comprehensive insurance, such as participant liability and excess medical policies, are preferable to those that don’t, should be given preference over those that don’t as this sort of overarching coverage ensures that there is a reasonable chance that you will be properly compensated for any injury or loss that may occur during training.
When all is said and done, making a decision about where to spend your training dollars is never easy and, with the growing number of providers out there, isn’t going to get any easier. However, by first identifying your specific training needs and then taking the time to do your homework regarding specific courses, the background and experience of the instructors, and quality of their work, you are likely to find that making decision on how and where to spend those training dollars becomes far easier and the right choices more obvious.
About the Author
Jerry Lucas is the Managing Partner of IPSG, an international provider of security and investigative services, headquartered in West Chester, PA. Mr. Lucas previously served as Global Security Operations Manager for the banking investment firm Salomon Brothers, Inc. and Supervisor of Security for numerous International Monetary Fund conferences held around the world. Prior to entering the private sector, Mr. Lucas served in South East Asia as a member of a US Air Force Special Operations Unit. His military service was followed by public sector service as a Police Officer, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Commander and Assistant Chief of Police.