As the summer travel season kicks into high gear, the Transportation Security Administration is looking to add thousands of workers to its ranks.
Tasked with keeping the nation’s skies safe, the TSA is recruiting transportation security officers, canine handlers and other positions, as passenger lines are at all-time historic highs. The agency is looking for motivated, mission-driven applicants in an increasingly tight labor market.
New security officer trainees such as Valeria Garcia are shown the importance of the mission at a two-week, mandatory training academy in Glynco, Georgia. Garcia, 22, participated in a curriculum that focused on customer service and passenger screenings and even detailed the impact of explosives. Trainees learn how to use X-ray machines, how to follow agency protocol, and how to interact with passengers, knowing that airports can be stressful environments for travelers.
“I actually think people believe we're taught to not care … to treat them wrong, and it's not like that,” Garcia said. “We actually learn how to treat passengers with a lot of care and respect and try to connect with them. Even if it's just for two seconds, just to make the experience a little less frightful for them.”
After completing training, Garcia returned to her local airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and trained for an additional 60 hours with an on-site coach, taking back-lessons from the academy. For Garcia, like many officers, the threat of another Sept. 11-type attack is a major motivator to be diligent on the job.
“To be able to work at the TSA, I feel like I am giving back to avoid something like that from ever happening again,” she said.
The hiring process typically takes about two months. Starting pay for security officers begins at around $35,000 a year, varying on role and location. But like most employers, the TSA isn’t immune to a strong economy. When demand is at a peak, finding the right talent can be a challenge even with a diverse applicant pool.
“With the uptick in the U.S. economy and increases in wages and compensation packages, like most employers we have steeper competition. We work hard to sell the benefits of federal employment to try to attract folks to help with America’s travel public,” said Keith Malley, TSA director for recruitment and field operations. “The TSA position is hard; we ask a lot out of those officers… we have to work aggressively so people know what they are getting into. But it is very rewarding for them. They are working to support very important mission.”
Malley says the transportation security officer position is a great entry into federal employment for those who are service- and mission-oriented. Efren Arocho felt that call to service and has been an instructor with the agency for nearly six years. He’s now stationed at the training academy in Georgia, preparing the TSA’s next generation of talent. His goal is to drive home the importance of accuracy and diligence and ensure that everyone is treated with respect.
“Always have professionalism,” he said. “It doesn’t matter background, culture — we’re all human beings, and that’s all that matters. "
A native New Yorker, Arocho remembers Sept. 11 well and takes his work at the TSA seriously to help prevent another attack.
“It just takes one mistake, so we’ve always got to stay on top of our game,” he said. “Thankfully, because of the academy and all of the training we’re getting at the airports, working together as a team, we have been successful and we continue to be successful.”