When Mr Paul Lim advertised his security firm on buses that plied the major roads of Singapore, he was not just promoting the Soverus brand to potential clients.
The chief executive wanted to instil a sense of pride in his workforce, which has mushroomed to more than 200 from just one employee in 2010.
This is one way that the former senior cop attracts and nurtures quality manpower, which he considers the "biggest challenge" confronting the security industry.
"When my officers and their children saw the bus advertisements, they felt a sense of pride," he says, recalling how an officer received a call from her excited children when they saw "her bus".
The quality of private security officers has come under scrutiny in the years following major terrorist events such as the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001.
Many building managers and owners realised the importance of security on their premises, leading to a rising demand for security services.
But the supply of security officers appears to have hit a bottleneck - a situation that leading security agencies here are trying to redress.
By mid-2012, more than 65,000 people were licensed as unarmed security guards, but nearly half of them, or about 30,000, no longer worked in the security industry.
Mr Daniel Marc Chow, director of Evtec Management Services, says: "The job used to be mundane and anyone who could be present for 12 hours would fit the bill.
"Now, officers have to manage many systems…they have to be strict and firm in following standard operating procedures, yet be polite and tactful as well."
Fighting for better wages
Mr Chow adds that cut-throat practices by some agencies have kept wages - a gross income of about $1,600 on average - low. He says: "We can't really increase our prices too much and, at the same time, we can't really increase wages or change work shift patterns. So this makes it difficult to retain staff in the industry, not to mention in our own company."
Hiring armed Auxiliary Police Officers (APO) - who command higher pay and prestige than the typical security officers - is proving difficult. Being an armed APO is not easy as it entails tough training and long working hours, says a spokesman for AETOS Security Management, a supplier of armed and unarmed officers. The company sweetens the deal by throwing in salary perks such as shift and deployment allowances and profit-sharing bonuses. It also ensures that high-performing APOs can be groomed to take on supervisory and leadership positions through a structured career progression. Greater work-life balance At Soverus, the management emphasises the welfare of the security officers. It brands itself as one of the best paymasters in the industry, even dishing out performance bonuses.
Medical and leave benefits, mobile phone plan discounts and career progression plans have been put in place.
The company also offers bursaries to its employees' school-going children.
Mr Lim says: "The Soverus Bursary Award came about when I realised that many of our security officers have reached a stage of life where they no longer have any grand ambitions for themselves, and their hopes are all pinned on their children.
"As a result, we embarked on a campaign to let our security officers know that we will help their children financially through their school as much as we can afford to.
"We believe that once we have taken care of their needs, both physical, emotional and psychological, the officers will perform beyond par.
"Our clients will be happy and the bottom line will sort itself out. This was indeed our experience in the last two years."
Among other schemes, Evtec is looking to ensure that its permanent staff work only five days a week.
Mr Chow says: "This will promote better work-life balance and increase job satisfaction."
More critical operations
With private security officers becoming more well-trained and knowledgeable, Mr Chow believes that government security agencies will be able to allow private officers to take on more critical operations and trust that they will be able to carry out the tasks well.
He points out that it is already becoming a norm for officers to be trained in lifesaving skills.
He also expects technology to complement the deployment of officers, with the number of electronic eyes expected to rise.
The security agencies are also exploring their options overseas.
Evtec has taken part in a few overseas projects, mainly involving the use of technology.
Soverus aims to corner a "substantial share" of the Singapore security market in five years, and branch out into the region.
Mr Lim says: "If all goes well, we should become the first publicly listed security agency in Singapore, which will put us in a good financial position to export the Singapore brand of honest and reliable security services to the world."