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As Security Increases, Jobs in Air and Airport Security Take Off

Airport security remains a big issue in North America. As a result, security workers are needed across the U.S. to help ensure the safety of air travelers. And that need is not going to decrease anytime soon.

"Regardless of the venue, whether it's an airport or commercial enterprise, there's going to be an increasing need for security personnel because of the world situation, which doesn't seem to be getting better regarding terrorism," says Douglas Laird. He's an aviation security consultant.

Before becoming a consultant, Laird worked with the United States Secret Service for 20 years. He also served as the director of security for Northwest Airlines.

"I think this society has a perceived threat, and I think their perception is correct," says Laird. "I think we're living in [dangerous] times....[There will be] an ever increasing need for security people."

These security workers will help keep the skies safe. Security at airline checkpoints in the U.S. is the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency handles security at more than 450 airports across the U.S.

Transportation security officers (TSOs) are also known as "screeners." They are responsible for screening passengers and their baggage at airports. They are also responsible for surveillance, and control of entry and exit points.

"In a typical year, TSA hires approximately 9,500 TSOs," says TSA spokesman Greg Soule. "However, with the increased level of security and need for more mission-critical positions, this number has increased significantly to meet the needs of TSA at airports throughout the country."

The TSA also employs federal air marshals, transportation security inspectors and staff for the National Explosives Detective Canine Team Program. Federal air marshals blend in with airplane passengers to detect terrorist or other criminal acts.

Transportation security inspectors inspect, assess and investigate passengers and cargo to determine security. And members of the National Explosives Detective Canine Team Program prepare dogs and handlers to quickly locate and identify dangerous materials that may pose a threat to transportation systems.

A job with the federal government can provide a sense of security in stormy times.

"In this uncertain economy, there is growing interest in federal jobs across the board, including jobs at TSA," says Soule. "People view federal jobs as stable and secure. They offer competitive pay, great benefits, flexible schedules and rewarding careers.

"Several recent positions that TSA advertised on a nationwide scale drew an incredible response -- with more than 500 candidates applying for each available position," Soule adds. "TSA expects interest to remain high as it implements new technologies designed to increase the safety of the traveling public."

What's behind the growing demand for more security personnel? "[The demand is] primarily due to increased security measures," says Andrea Graham. She is the human resources manager for an airport security services company. "Consistently since 9/11, demand has grown... each year based on enhanced security requirements."

A Dynamic Career

The airport security field offers opportunities for challenging, high-tech careers.

"Securing the transportation systems throughout the U.S. is dynamic and constantly evolving," says Soule. "It requires the consistent application of new technology and innovative ideas. Consequently, there's a real demand for capable individuals who are flexible and creative to fill mission-critical positions within the agency, including TSOs."

TSOs can be promoted into positions such as lead or supervisory TSOs, or into expert or master TSO positions. From there, they can be promoted into other airport management positions, or into inspector or federal air marshal positions.

The TSA also sponsors a career evolution program. It offers additional career options for high-performing TSA employees.

The salary range for screeners in the U.S. varies depending on the location of the position. The typical salary range is $30,000 to $40,000, says Soule. Also, unlike typical part-time positions with companies and government agencies, the TSA offers full federal benefits for part-time employees.

"Other security staff have salary ranges from approximately $40,000 at the lower levels through $160,000 for an executive federal security director," says Soule. "The salaries for federal air marshals start somewhat higher [than $40,000] and include law enforcement availability pay."

Job Requirements

Airport screeners don't need more than a high school diploma. However, it helps if previous jobs or education reveal an interest in the security field. Screeners receive classroom instruction as well as on-the-job training.

Laird expects that it will be more difficult to get a job in airport security in the future.

"I think what'll happen... is that we'll increase the requirements to be a certified security person," says Laird. "To be all types of security in the EU (European Union), the training requirements are far more extensive, and I think that'll happen here over time. For example, to be a security agent [at an airport] in the EU you need to be certified as a security officer, and you need hundreds of hours of experience before they'll even consider you."

Graham says airport screeners should:

* Want to work with people

* Pay close attention to detail

* Be able to work independently and in a team environment

* Want to provide passengers with a safe and positive travel experience

"If you want to be on the management track in [airport] security, and many may disagree with me, I think you should come from a law enforcement or military background," says Laird. "That experience is invaluable.

"For example, when I was corporate director of security for Northwest [Airlines], I was dealing with law enforcement types all over the world, and government types all over the world. And coming from that background, you have an understanding of how it all works, and you get a better reception because you've been in that role before and they feel at ease with you."

Federal air marshals are also in demand. These people blend in with other air travelers to keep airplanes safe. They are armed and highly skilled. Their training includes investigative techniques, behavior profiling, firearms proficiency and close quarters self-defense.

However, it's not easy to become a federal air marshal. The hiring process includes a written application, in-person interview, medical exams, physical training assessment, psychological assessment and background investigation. Many have work experience in law enforcement.

"As is the case with many security occupations, demand remains strong for federal air marshals," says Soule.

Whatever path you choose in the field of air and airport security, you can build a career ensuring the skies are friendly and safe!


Aviation Safety Network
Comprehensive info about airline safety, including safety tips, statistics and news

Federal Aviation Administration
Info on career opportunities, including airport screener and federal air marshal

Transportation Security Administration
Visit this site for job postings and news

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