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Guards patrol and inspect property to protect against fire, theft, vandalism, and illegal entry. Their duties vary with the size, type, and location of their employer.

In office buildings, banks, hospitals, and department stores, guards protect records, merchandise, money, and equipment. In department stores, they often work with undercover detectives watching for theft by customers or store employees.

At ports, airports, and railroads, guards protect merchandise being shipped as well as property and equipment. They insure that nothing is stolen while being loaded or unloaded, and watch for fires, prowlers, and trouble among work crews. Sometimes they direct traffic.

Guards who work in public buildings, such as museums or art galleries, protect paintings and exhibits. They also answer routine questions from visitors and sometimes guide traffic.

In factories, laboratories, government buildings, data processing centers, and military bases where valuable property or information must be protected, guards check the credentials of persons and vehicles entering and leaving the premises. University, park, or recreation guards perform similar duties and also may issue parking permits and direct traffic.

At social affairs, sports events, conventions, and other public gatherings, guards maintain order, give information, and watch for persons who may cause trouble.

In a large organization, a security officer often is in charge of the guard force; in a small organization, a single worker may be responsible for security. Patrolling usually is done on foot, but if the property is large, guards may make their rounds by car or motor scooter.

As they make their rounds, guards check all doors and windows, see that no unauthorized persons remain after working hours, and insure that fire extinguishers, alarms, sprinkler systems, furnaces, and various electrical and plumbing systems are working properly. They sometimes set thermostats or turn on lights for janitorial workers.

Guards usually are uniformed and often carry a nightstick and gun. They also may carry a flashlight, whistle, two-way radio, and a watch clock--a device that indicates the time at which they reach various checkpoints.

Working Conditions

Guards work indoors and outdoors patrolling buildings, industrial plants, and grounds. Indoors, they may be stationed at a guard desk to monitor electronic security and surveillance devices or check the credentials of persons entering or leaving the premises. They also may be stationed at gate shelters or may patrol grounds in all weather. Since guards often work alone, no one is nearby to help if an accident or injury occurs. Some large firms, therefore, use a reporting service that enables guards to be in constant contact with a central station outside the plant. If they fail to transmit an expected signal, the central station investigates. Guard work is usually routine, but guards must be constantly alert for threats to themselves and to the property that they are protecting. Guards who work during the day may have a great deal of contact with other employees and members of the public.

Many guards work alone at night; the usual shift lasts 8 hours. Some employers have three shifts where guards rotate to divide daytime, weekend, and holiday work equally. Guards usually eat on the job instead of taking a regular break.

Although guard jobs are found throughout the country, most are located in metropolitan areas.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most employers prefer guards who are high school graduates. Applicants with less than a high school education also can qualify if they pass reading and writing tests and demonstrate competence in following written and oral instructions. Some jobs require a driver's permit. Employers also seek people who have had experience in the military police or in State and local police departments. Most persons who enter guard jobs have prior work experience, although it is usually unrelated. Because of limited formal training requirements and flexible hours, this occupation attracts many persons seeking a second job. For some entrants, retired from military careers or other protective services, guard employment is a second career.

Applicants are expected to have good character references, no police record, good health--especially in hearing and vision--and good personal habits such as neatness and dependability. They should be mentally alert and emotionally stable. Guards must be physically fit to cope with emergencies.

Candidates for guard jobs in the Federal Government must have some experience as a guard and pass a written examination. Armed Forces experience also is an asset. For most Federal guard positions, applicants must qualify in the use of firearms.

The amount of training guards receive varies. Training requirements generally are increasing as modern, highly sophisticated security systems become more commonplace. Many employers give newly hired guards instruction before they start the job and also provide several weeks of on-the-job training. Guards at nuclear power plants may undergo several months of training before being placed on duty under close supervision. Guards may be taught to use firearms, to administer first aid, to operate alarm systems and electronic security equipment, and to spot and deal with security problems. Guards who are authorized to carry firearms may be periodically tested in their use according to State or local laws. Some guards are periodically tested for strength and endurance.

Although guards in small companies receive periodic salary increases, advancement is likely to be limited. However, most large organizations use a military type of ranking that offers advancement in position and salary. Guard experience enables some persons to transfer to police jobs that offer higher pay and greater opportunities for advancement. Guards with some college education may advance to jobs that involve administrative duties or the prevention of espionage and sabotage. A few guards with management skills open their own contract security guard agencies.

Job openings for persons seeking work as guards are expected to be plentiful through the year 2000. High turnover in this large occupation makes it rank among those providing the greatest number of job openings in the entire economy. Many opportunities are expected for persons seeking full-time employment, as well as for those seeking part-time or seconds jobs at night or on weekends. However, competition is expected for in-house guard positions. Compared to contract security guards, in-house guards enjoy higher earnings and benefits, greater job security, and more advancement potential, and are usually given more training and responsibility.

Employment of guards is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Increased concern about crime, vandalism and terrorism will heighten the need for security in and around plants, stores, offices, and recreation areas. The level of business investment in increasingly expensive plant and equipment is expected to rise, resulting in growth in the number of guard jobs. Demand for guards will also grow as private security firms increasingly perform duties--such as monitoring crowds at airports and providing security in courts--formerly handled by government police officers and marshals.

Guards employed by industrial security and guard agencies occasionally are laid off when the firm where they work for does not renew its contract with their agency. Most are able to find employment with other agencies, however. Guards employed directly by the firm at which they work are seldom laid off because a plant or factory must still be protected even when economic conditions force it to close temporarily.

Unionized in-house guards tend to earn more than the average. Many guards are represented by the United Plant Guard Workers Of America. Other guards belong to the International Union of Guards or the International Union of Security Officers.

Guards protect property, maintain security, and enforce regulations for entry and conduct in the establishments at which they work. Related security and protective service occupations include: Bailiffs, border guards, correction officers, deputy sheriffs, fish and game wardens, house or store detectives, police officers, and private investigators.