Featured Career: Federal Airport Screeners
Aileen Cho / Monster.com
October 16, 2007
Everyone knows that US airports have changed since September 11, 2001. If you’ve traveled by air lately, you’ve experienced standing in line, having your luggage screened and maybe even being searched yourself. If you’re interested and qualified, you could take the walk to the other side of the queue and earn part-time or full-time money as an airport screener.Evolving Needs
Since November 2004, airports have had the choice to opt out of having the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) handle transportation security officer (TSO) hiring. In place of using the TSA, airports could choose to hire private contractors who provide screeners, though TSA does continue to oversee screening operations. Only six airports out of 450 have opted out.
“In this innovative public/private partnership, private contractors must adhere to the same strict operational, hiring and training standards as TSA employees,” says TSA spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.
The majority of airports are maintaining TSA hiring, with an increasing focus on part-time positions to handle peak hours when passenger congestion is at its highest. TSA recruits screeners for approximately 230 airports across the country.Jobs for Any Age
Applicants must be US citizens and must pass a 10-year background check, which means having no felonies. A high-school diploma or equivalent and/or a year’s worth of experience in a security-related function are also required.
Age is not a factor; “we have an 80-year-old screener,” says former TSA spokeswoman Deirdre O’Sullivan. “We have a lot of retired people who come back into the workforce.”
TSA screeners get all the benefits typical of government jobs: annual leave, sick leave and full medical benefits. The one exception is that while most government workers might get a federal holiday off, that holiday is when screeners are needed the most. “People have to remember that holidays are busy times for travelers,” says Kudwa. Working those hours does come with overtime pay.
If you apply and receive a response, you should expect to travel to the airport for which you applied or to nearby TSA offices. The hiring experience will include hearing and color-vision tests – you have to be able to distinguish the patterns shown on the X-ray machine – and an English proficiency exam. You also should be physically able to handle luggage weighing up to 70 pounds.
If accepted, you’ll receive 40 hours of classroom training and 60 hours of on-the-job training. You’ll learn the proper way to “wand” a person, including the disabled, X-ray analysis and other security functions. You’ll learn how to deal with the public, how to identify improvised explosive devices, hand-search bags and learn about the latest in explosion detection technologies. “We also consistently roll out new technology and keep our workforce highly trained on the latest techniques and procedures,” adds Kudwa.Benefits and Part-Time Opportunities
Full-time TSOs make an average of $32,000 a year and have opportunities to move up the ranks to lead TSOs, supervisors and shift managers. TSOs also can pursue technical careers as bomb appraisal officers, training instructors, equipment technicians or behavior detection officers specializing in covert techniques to spot high-risk individuals.
Part-time opportunities are growing. TSA has begun hiring part-time positions to better staff the ebb and flow of flights and passengers. The part-time rate varies from about $11 to $20 an hour, depending on region and experience. That doesn’t mean full-time positions aren’t available at all; individual airports need full-time hires.
Airports are beginning to reach out to students as well. In 2004, San Diego International Airport (SDIA) worked with the TSA to hire 50 college students as temporary screeners. The students learned to assist passengers in placing their items on the screening belt, make announcements about prohibited items and screening procedures as well as other tasks, says Sharie Shipley, SDIA spokeswoman. Students work 20 hours a week and get paid $10 an hour. This year, 30 students have been hired for the summer.
“We use this program during peak periods of travel,” says Shipley. “The internship program is currently scheduled for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and we will be doing it again next summer.”
The TSA offers internship opportunities at its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. “Many of our airports hire college students as part-time TSOs,” says Kudwa. “We are aggressively expanding in-line systems, with 25 operational and an additional 26 under construction. TSOs also have the ability to transfer airports or join our National Screening Force, which travels around the country staffing airports with very seasonal passenger traffic.”