Protecting People, Property and Information

Protecting People, Property and Information

Asset Protection program evolves as technology changes

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

Having been trained in such areas as private investigations, cybersecurity and asset protection technology, graduates of FVTC's Asset Protection program are in high demand. The associate degree program is the only one of its kind in Wisconsin. It can be completed fully online or through a combination of online and in-person classes.

Aaron Zemlock, department chair of Asset Protection, was recently interviewed by Hayley Tenpas during WHBY's Focus on Careers segment. Aaron shares what kinds of positions are available for Asset Protection graduates and why--more than ever--our grads are coveted in the workforce.

Listen to Aaron and Hayley's conversation by clicking on the video or you can read the transcript of the conversation below.


Tenpas: Welcome back to Focus Fox Valley on WHBY. It’s time now for our Focus on Careers an opportunity to highlight careers of promise and the education offered at Fox Valley Technical College. Today, we’re learning more about the Asset Protection Program, which is part of the Criminal Justice program at Fox Valley Technical College. And Aaron Zemlock joins us, an instructor in the Criminal Justice program but also department chair specifically for Asset Protection. So he knows what he's talking about. Hi, Aaron. How are you? Good, Hayley. How are you? Good to see you. Okay. So we're going to talk a lot about this program today, but first, a little on your background. How did you become an instructor and get connected to Fox Valley Tech?

Zemlock: I was a police officer with the City of Menasha for a little over 20 years. And my last eight years or so working at the department, I worked as a community liaison and a large part of that was doing security surveys and training for businesses on threat response and those types of things. So it was kind of a natural fit, I had an opportunity to take a full-time position teaching at the college. I had been teaching as an adjunct there for five or six years prior to that, so I kind of knew what I was getting into with teaching and really looked forward to that. But that morphed into eventually taking the role of the department chair for the Asset Protection degree, which is really focusing on target hardening and security for the private sector.

Tenpas: I'm told it's a hidden gem program at Fox Valley Tech and it's an associate degree program as well. So how do you explain what this program is to college students and to the general public, like our listeners here today?

Zemlock: So it’s morphed over the years. Years ago, it was really heavily focused on kind of just the physical security aspect of alarms and locks and those types of things. And not that that's not part of it, but there's been a convergence in the security world with cybersecurity and you can't go anywhere these days without access control systems being locked into networks or, you know, Bluetooth and that kind of thing. So as it's changed, the landscape, you know, in the security world, we've kind of morphed along with it. So the program has evolved into a much more rounded program, one that focuses on not just physical security, but also dabbles in the cybersecurity world so that those who go into those professions can actually work alongside each other and understand what each other is saying.

Tenpas: Interesting. So what is asset protection?

Zemlock: Great question. So it's under the public safety umbrella. And a lot of times when we hear security, people think of warehouse security or security guards. And while those are extremely important roles, you don't necessarily need a college education to do some of those things; those are entry-level roles. So what asset protection is: our tagline is protecting people, property and information. And these are people who are going to go into that entry-level security management or security director positions. And their responsibility, in essence, is to keep the people inside safe, keep proprietary information and employee information safe. So in a nutshell, it's doing kind of what law enforcement does out in the public, but doing it in the private sector.

Tenpas: Interesting. And if you think about it, kind of gatekeeping perhaps for businesses. And it's more…  It's our computers, it's our cell phones. It's our tablets. Yes. All of that system work?

Zemlock: Yes, absolutely. And everything is so intertwined. You know, I think of at the college, you know, even logging into our computer system to teach a class, you know, we have to have our cell phones because there's a dual authentication system to get in. You know, it's all about that protection piece. And this really is kind of the stepping stone into that world. The one misconception also is it's not necessarily cyber security because that's a whole different specialty. But in order to secure a building, you need to understand both. So this kind of bridges that gap.  

Tenpas: All right. What type of job opportunities are out there? I'm very curious. What can you do with this degree? Yeah.

Zemlock: So, you know, over the years that has continued to change. And again, the market is growing. I think it's a 13 to 18% increase, like annually, 120 some percent increase since like 2012. So this is there's jobs out there that haven't even been created yet because technology is constantly changing and evolving. So really the idea behind this is to get people into that entry-level security position or asset protection position. Some of our graduates and students have gone on to roles as global security directors for a large local company. Some of them are security directors for professional sports teams in the area. So some really interesting job opportunities. And you know, which includes global travel, the private sector is well known for, I guess better… being better financially able to pay higher salaries. So because of that private sector component, it really can be a very lucrative profession as well.

Tenpas: Very interesting because again, you're keeping the bad guys out, which in many instances are viruses, right? Hackers, spammers, that type of thing?

Zemlock: Yeah, that's part of it. And the other part of it is actually there's something called social engineering, and that is where you have physical people showing up at a property and utilizing their communication skills and their wiliness to enter a building. So it's both. So you have to be concerned about that digital presence or that cyber presence, but you also have to be worried about people getting into your facilities, both trying to get information or in the worst-case scenario, people going into your business to try to hurt people.

Tenpas: Interesting. And I would imagine the demand for this type of position, which is very niche. It seems very niche.

Zemlock: Yeah, absolutely. All-time high. And because it's relatively new in its current formation, there's this kind of convergence of physical and cyber security and so kind of new roles are being created all the time with this. And yeah, it's definitely a growing and booming sector.

Tenpas:  Back with our Focus on Careers, highlighting the criminal justice area of Fox Valley Tech, specifically the Asset Protection program. We have department Chair Aaron Zemlock joining us here. And I'm learning a lot. It's a very fascinating area that's relatively new in the criminal justice world. But what kind of student is a fit for this program? Whom are you looking to target for this program?

Zemlock: That's obviously with any college and any program, you know, what is your target audience? And a lot of people would automatically assume, you know, you're looking at your high school students coming up. And while that certainly is a focus and I would say even earlier probably middle school to start thinking about these things, this program really focuses on both that demographic as well as people that are currently working in the field.

This is one of those fields where additional education is simply going to promote you. You're going to move up in this field and there's the traditional person going into these roles ten, 20 years ago are usually former law enforcement or former military. And then sometimes that transition can be really difficult to go from those roles into the private sector. And now, having been to a couple of national conferences talking about this, they're really looking for people that foundationally from the ground up have come up in this asset protection world. And so those people who want to help, they want to help people, they want to protect people, but they might not want to be law enforcement.

Maybe that's not their thing. They don't want to get into a patrol car and do those things. This is really filling that gap for those people that have the skill set and the need and the want and the desire to help people, but maybe not in that traditional role.

Tenpas: Again, a hidden gem, I'm told, of a program at Fox Valley Tech and one of only a few in Wisconsin, if not the country.

Zemlock: So we are for sure the only asset protection associate degree in the state and arguably the country. There are definitely programs out there that have similar, similar course structures, as many of those though are bachelor's level or master's degrees. So to have something that gets you in the door and on that right path for one of these, you know, potentially very lucrative and satisfying careers, we are kind of the only skin in the game.

Tenpas: But that makes sense because, you know, maybe a master's or a bachelor's degree is something that a student wants to check out down the road. But this is a great starting point. Absolutely. And it's all online as well.

Zemlock: Correct. So we have a few programs through the college that can be taught all online. This is one of them. And if people want to come in person, there's probably about 50% of the courses that are also taught on campus. So if you're more like, Well, I don't want to do everything online, I want to be on campus for some we give a little bit of both. But what really helps with that format, though, is we don't necessarily have to just stay locally. We can be a national program. So anybody you know across the country that is looking for that leg up and that degree could take this program from wherever they live.

Tenpas: That's very cool and makes sense in asset protection as well as what we're talking about to be doing some of that online. It does. All right. So we talked about your background a little bit, But I mean, this degree has really kind of created itself. What changes have you seen over the years in asset protection?

Zemlock: Sure. I mentioned a little bit before, but one of the biggest shifts is, you know, there used to be such a huge divide between the people that were responsible for the physical protection of a building and then those who are responsible for what happened inside or, you know, virtually, if you will. And that has really converged. So not that people are doing the same job. There are not a lot of people that are responsible for both physical security as well as cyber security, but they need to work together.

So we modified this program pretty substantially over the last couple of years to include four specific IT courses. And those courses are designed so that if I'm sitting at the table with the cybersecurity folks and they're talking about hackers and coming into the system and you know, you think of like Target Corporation that was hacked through their HVAC system, through the Bluetooth in their HVAC system. Who would have thought that that could have happened? But if don't know the language that these IT folks are speaking and I'm a physical security person, I'm not going to be really effective. So we've really worked hard and the industry has worked hard at merging those two things so that one person isn't doing the whole job, but they can work collaboratively together.

Tenpas: And one thing we were talking about during the break, it's not if you're going to get hacked, it's when you said they use the information.

Zemlock: Yeah, absolutely. And it happens in a lot of different ways. You know, whether it's through, you know, those digital means through personal devices or through the Internet or literally physically, somebody showing up at your property and working their way into your facility.

Tenpas: Wow. All right. It's a whole new ballgame out there, a new world. But this asset protection program is, again, an associate degree program at Fox Valley Tech. Is. It's here to help. And one of the best, if not the only in the nation that's specifically targeting this. So cool. We love that. It's here at Fox Valley Tech. Aaron, If people are listening or want to share more about this program with whomever they know in their life who might be a good fit, how do we get them connected?

Zemlock: Easiest way is really to contact FVTC. If you go on our website and go to the public Safety division, you will see the asset protection degree and there's contact information right there and you'll probably be talking to me.

Tenpas: Excellent. Aaron, great to meet you. Thanks for filling us in here today.