Allied Universal Struggles to Fill ‘Thousands’ of Security Jobs

Allied Universal Struggles to Fill ‘Thousands’ of Security Jobs
Allied’s Steve Jones is focused on long-term benefits programs.

As the nation’s largest security firm, Orange County and Pennsylvania-based Allied Universal has long been a massive employer both in the L.A. area and globally.

But the security giant is facing a new challenge: a dwindling talent pool.

Allied Universal took the No. 7 spot on the Business Journal’s 2021 Largest Employers list, with more than 15,300 employees in L.A. County this year. Although this total is up from last year’s employment number of nearly 14,500, Allied Universal Chief Executive Steve Jones said he has struggled in 2021 to fill thousands of roles locally and nationally.

He attributes this difficulty to the recent trend of mass resignations affecting several service industry businesses.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve never seen a labor market like this where you have high unemployment, but you have millions of job openings and no employees to fill it,” Jones said.

In an interview with the Business Journal, Jones discussed the pandemic’s effects on Allied Universal’s workforce, the struggle to fill jobs and how the company is retaining its current employees.

How has the pandemic affected your company in terms of its workforce? 
We are frontline employees. We were deemed an essential service because our employees are at commercial office buildings, in front of hospitals, corporate headquarters, retail centers and government facilities. Because of that, we really never could shut down. There was no work-from-home. For our handful of back-office support personnel, if they had preexisting conditions or family members at home that could be susceptible, we made arrangements and accommodations.  

We certainly had to completely redo the way we recruit and hire. We have 300,000 employees here in the U.S., and as you can imagine, the traditional ways of applying for a job, coming into an office for an interview and going through the whole interview and hiring process were much different for us. We had to get really creative by shifting a lot of that online and using remote hiring or outside locations so people felt comfortable coming in and going through that process. That was a big shift for us.

How has 2021 been for Allied Universal compared to 2020? 
2021 has been more challenging from a labor perspective than 2020. Obviously with the pandemic, we had to rush to make sure that our employees could go to work in a safe manner with personal protective equipment.
2021 has really probably been the most challenging year for us because of the labor dynamics. The labor market has been highly dysfunctional, where we have thousands and thousands of job openings, tens of thousands around the country and thousands locally here in Southern California. It’s very difficult … for us as well as other businesses that are highly dependent upon labor to find people right now. We’re hoping that now that the federal stimulus has stopped, we’ll see people start to go back to work, so we can hire people and fill those job openings.

How is your company handling safety protocols such as distancing, mask wearing, Covid-19 vaccinations and testing?  
Immediately in March of 2020, we rolled out new office protocols as far as distance requirements … provided masks, latex gloves, hand sanitizer — all the PPE equipment. We promote a safe and healthy work environment at all times. If you’re not feeling well, we ask those folks to not come to work and (to) get tested.
With regards to Covid vaccinations, what we’ve been doing is encouraging our employees to get vaccinated, but we have not yet mandated (it). We have some customer locations, such as health care facilities, that do mandate that security officers be vaccinated. In those cases, if you want to work in those locations, you have to be vaccinated.

We’re waiting to see what the new OSHA requirements are, and then we will determine what the next steps are with our employees. We’re highly encouraging our employees to get vaccinated just for their own personal health and safety.

Have you changed any benefits in the past year to accommodate employees and compete in the current market? 
We rolled out a bunch of different technology applications that kind of change the way we do business, from recruiting to hiring to being able to communicate with our employees.

Last year in the second quarter, we rolled out a one-time special reward that we are going to be paying over five years. We are contributing up to $15 million to our employees over a five-year period that were with us during that time and then stay with us from a retention standpoint. It’s a recognition for being on the frontlines and for all the hard work and dedication that they’ve shown to not only us but our customers.

From an HR and management perspective, what has been your biggest takeaway from navigating the pandemic as an employer? 
Since we’re a security company, we’ve been prepared over the years for lots of different emergencies. Because we’re in the security business, we prepare for emergencies and disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, severe weather and fires. But the pandemic was something we never prepared for. It’s opening our eyes to be aware of other challenges that could be dysfunctional to our employees and the overall labor force.

Have you launched or expanded upon any programs to promote diversity and inclusion internally? What changes have been made in that respect? 
Absolutely. We have a full-time, senior-level executive who heads up diversity and inclusion. Sixty-six percent of our employees are nonwhite, and over 35% of our employees are female. So, for us, it’s always been an important topic.
We’ve spent more time over the last year and a half making sure we’re promoting diversity inclusion. It’s what makes us different, in many regards, and brings us together from a cultural and team perspective. We’re coming up with new creative messaging and ongoing communications with regards to promoting that because our workforce is highly diverse.

What trends in your industry and among your staff-specific needs are you going to be monitoring in 2022? 
The first and foremost trend is in regards to the vaccine mandates, so determining what the OSHA requirements are and our ability to make sure that our employees meet those people’s requirements, so we can service our customers and also keep our employees safe.
We’re also seeing a little bit of an uptick in overall crime and what I call security incidents around the country. We’ve seen a pretty significant uptick of homelessness in a lot of major cities. For us, this means teaching our employees how to conduct their jobs and handle those situations and do so in a safe manner, keeping them safe but also doing what we need to do from a security perspective. 

Keep reading the 2021 Largest Employers Special Report.

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