Ask almost any asset protection executive what one of their challenges is, and they will tell you it is recruiting quality candidates to join their team. Ask that same executive if, when they started their career, they had considered asset protection or loss prevention as a possible career path, and the answer you most likely will receive is “no.”
Asset protection, for the most part, continues to be the great unknown for many college students seeking careers. Besides the role of undercover shoplift agent, few are aware of the diverse and rewarding careers that await in the industry. Fortunately for the asset protection industry, large reservoirs of quality candidates are eager to find rewarding careers. However, only a few asset protection leaders have cast their recruiting nets into these bountiful waters.
Universities across the country are filled with energetic, inquisitive students who are actively contemplating their career paths. Except for the occasional job fairs, the asset protection profession overall has been woefully limited in their attempts to educate and cultivate team members from this diverse talent pool. This is surprising in that a 2012 survey of loss prevention executives commissioned by the National Retail Federation (NRF) Loss Prevention Education Committee reflected that 71 percent of respondents stated team members with a college degree add organizational credibility to their department. Additionally the survey, conducted by Professor Robert Hanson at Northern Michigan University, further indicated that 93 percent of respondents felt that a baccalaureate degree was beneficial for a promotion to a district or regional LP position.
Partnering with Universities
Some asset prevention organizations, however, have learned the value of establishing ongoing relationships with universities to recruit potential new talent. Target is one of those companies that not only recruits team members at university job fairs but also has taken its recruiting efforts to the next level by creating an AP intern program.
Erin Tyler, senior director of assets protection for Target, stated, “We know we play an important role in training the next generation of assets protection professionals.” As one of the largest retailers in the country, Target takes a multilayered, comprehensive approach to maintaining safe stores and preventing theft that includes partnerships with local law enforcement, technology, tools, and robust team member training.
Tyler noted that Target strives to “instill a culture of learning and growth among our team. As part of that culture, we have an internship program within our stores that helps educate future asset protection leaders about the nuances of the retail industry and hones their expertise working closely with law enforcement. We found success through our pilot program last summer with a dozen interns and look forward to expanding the program in 2020 with more than twice as many participants.”
Michael Rengers is a University of Cincinnati College of Criminal Justice graduate and asset protection operation manager for Target. As is true with many criminal justice students, Rengers knew very little about the asset protection career opportunities and was initially focused on obtaining a job in law enforcement. His internships during college were with law enforcement agencies rather than asset protection. It was only when he obtained a part-time store position with the Target AP team while he attended the University of Cincinnati that he learned of the many career paths available to him in retail.
Rengers explained, “The lessons I learned from my internships with the Cincinnati Police Department and University of Cincinnati Police Department were invaluable. The internship experience helped me develop a better understanding of a police organization and the investigation process, as well as how loss prevention team members in retail and law enforcement can support and interact with one another to establish lasting partnerships.”
Starting an Internship Program
Susan Bourke, University of Cincinnati associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the School of Criminal Justice, coordinates the asset protection internships for the college. The university has almost 900 criminal justice students who, according to Bourke, “are always looking for internships and career opportunities. Internships are an excellent opportunity for employers to recruit wonderful employees.”
Most students, according to Bourke, have never been exposed to the career opportunities that are available to them in the asset protection field. Professor Bourke explained that it is very easy for a company that is interested in starting an asset protection internship to do so at the University of Cincinnati. “Our goal at the university is to not only educate students but, as importantly, help them be successful in obtaining jobs when they graduate. Internships are a key component in helping students achieve that goal.”
AP executives have many priorities competing for their attention. In speaking with executives while conducting research for this article, the reason received for not having an AP intern program in place at their company was quite frequently, “I have thought about it but don’t know how to start one.” This is a legitimate response and one I experienced while I was leading the loss prevention program at Kroger.
While serving on the education committee for the National Retail Federation Loss Prevention Council, committee members discussed new ways to recruit talent to our industry. Trying to work with colleges at that time to develop asset protection internships was a struggle because, much like today, professors knew very little about our industry and the multiple career paths.
I was fortunate while at Kroger to connect with Professor Bourke who was very interested in learning more about the loss prevention profession. After a few meetings, Professor Bourke suggested that we start an internship at our corporate office. With the support of my corporate LP team members, human resources staff, and Professor Bourke, we developed the job profile for the position. The profile included goals and a training plan that would ensure that the intern would not only be exposed to the multiple corporate and division areas of our loss prevention program but also spend time participating in the cross-functional meetings we had with other business units that we partnered with.
The first year of our internship, we asked the University of Cincinnati to circulate our internship position. We were rewarded with numerous quality applicants. My corporate LP managers and our HR manager conducted interviews to select the final candidate. The following years, working with our corporate recruiters, we were able to circulate our intern position to other universities. Much to my surprise, we received interest in our internship position from candidates who lived in other states. The students were eager to learn and were willing to travel to Cincinnati for an opportunity to do so.
Benefits of Interns
The experience we had with interns on my LP team during my time with Kroger was very positive. Not only did my team members embrace mentoring them, but also the interns contributed to providing fresh perspectives on projects they participated in that we might not otherwise have been exposed to.
An unexpected benefit to our intern program was the positive feedback my team and I received from our peers in the other corporate business units. They were impressed with the fact we had initiated an intern program and with the quality of our candidates. Additionally, we were able to cultivate interest with the interns in applying for full-time positions with our company after they graduated, both within loss prevention and in other areas of the business.
The size of a company’s asset protection program is not relevant to a college student seeking an internship opportunity. What they want is an opportunity to be exposed to leaders who are willing to provide them insight into a profession that they might not otherwise be exposed to. They want an opportunity to be part of a team.
The asset protection profession as a career continues, for the most part, to be an afterthought for many college students. AP executives have stated that they value having college-educated associates on their teams, but few have taken a proactive approach to recruiting those candidates. Our industry holds the key in its hand to unlock the flow of a new and diverse talent pool to our industry. AP internships can be a trifecta win for students, colleges, and companies.
If you are interested in helping to develop tomorrow’s AP leaders and want to learn more about how to start an AP internship, feel free to reach out to any of the university contacts listed below, or to this author, to get additional insight on this opportunity to help others and our industry. It might be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done in your career.
University Contacts for AP Internships
- University of Cincinnati, Professor Susan Bourke, susan.bourke (at) uc.edu
- Northern Michigan, Professor Robert Hanson, bhanson (at) nmu.edu
- University of Florida, Michael Capece, PhD, macapece (at) ufl.edu or Jodi Lane, PhD, jlane (at) ufl.edu
About the Author
KARL F. LANGHORST, CPP, CFI, is a well-known asset protection professional with over thirty years of experience in retail and distribution centers, including leadership roles with The Kroger Co. and Safeway. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Criminal Justice and as a senior advisor to ALTO USA. He can be reached at langhokl (at) cmail.uc. edu.