To say the physical security industry has changed in recent years is quite the understatement.
“I look at security as a living, breathing entity,” said Jamie Behr, the Government Security Manager/Contractor Special Security Officer (CSSO) for security technology giant, McAfee, Inc. “Security is not the same as it was 10 or even five years ago. Everything is changing, especially in the world of cybersecurity—hackers never sleep, so security never sleeps.”
Behr oversees McAfee’s industrial security program, including all employees with security clearances as well as cleared facilities that house classified government documents. And, let’s just say, things haven’t exactly gotten easier for this sector of the security industry.
“In a post-Snowden and -Bradley Manning world, companies that operate within government security are getting scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb,” he said. “So having knowledge and education making up well-rounded security officers are essential.”
One of the biggest challenges—for the security industry as a whole—is ensuring that security personnel have the skills, education and industry knowledge to protect the nation’s critical assets. “Education is key to everything in the security world,” Behr said.
Security Leaders Need to Push Education
Behr does not just talk a good game about the importance of education, he has lived it.
“I don’t believe in being a manager, I believe in being a leader. Part of my strategy is showing people who work for me how important education is by being an example and furthering my own education,” he said.
And he knows how challenging it can be to pursue higher education.
“When I got out of high school, to be honest, college and furthering my education was the last thing I wanted to do—I was fed up with school, so I enlisted in the Navy,” he said.
However, as he matured, Behr realized how important education was for his future career aspirations. While still on active duty and often deployed around the world, he started taking college classes at American Military University, a 100% online university. It was a slow process—it took him almost 10 years to get his bachelor’s degree—but he finally got a BA in security management from AMU in 2005.
But Behr didn’t stop there. As he began thinking about life after the Navy, it became apparent to him that getting the job he wanted in the security field would require even more education, so he began pursuing his master’s degree in homeland security. He finished his program just two months before retiring from the Navy. While he acknowledges that he learned a lot from his career in the Navy, “getting the structure that college gave me was huge, it was absolutely huge,” he said.
Now, as a security leader, Behr has the opportunity to share his experience with others and push them to get their degrees. He requires all his employees to create educational goals for themselves, whether they take classes toward a formal degree or an industry certification.
“If there isn’t an education component to their annual goals, I don’t approve it,” he said. “Yes, I’m forcing them into it, but they will thank me later. I would not be in the position I am if I did not have an education.”
The Nuances of Industrial Security
Industrial security—also referred to as government security—is such a niche sector of the security industry, there are few specific degree programs that teach security professionals how to manage classified materials. However, Behr’s alma mater, American Military University, recently launched a government security concentration under its undergrad security management program.
In addition to security management, Behr recommends industrial security professionals consider getting a degree in homeland security, or something related to cybersecurity or information technology.
“As technology has evolved we are now finding that security professionals need a greater understanding of IT security and computer security,” he said. It’s increasingly important for security professionals to gain a broad understanding of cybersecurity not only to help protect their own networks, but because many times IT-security employees report to the chief security officer.
In addition to formal education, there are several relevant certifications:
While these industry-relevant certifications can be an important component for a security career, it is increasingly important for security professionals to have higher education.
“When I graduated high school in the mid-80s, you could have a successful career in the white collar world with just a high school degree. You can’t do that today,” Behr said. “You can’t get into senior management without a college degree so having that background is essential.”