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Become a Transportation Security Officer: Education and Career Info

Find out how to become a transportation security officer. Research the training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in transportation security.

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Do I Want to Be a Transportation Security Officer?

Transportation security officers (TSO) usually work at airports performing screening techniques to ensure the safety and security of passengers. They follow specific procedures and policies set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and usually work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or a private agency. Standing for prolonged periods of time might be required in this occupation.

Job Requirements

Most TSO positions require candidates to have a high school diploma or GED and at least one year of security experience. The following table contains some of the most common requirements for becoming a TSO according to online job ads posted in January 2013:

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma or GED, no college degree required
Experience Some jobs prefer candidates with at least 1 year of security-related experience
Key Skills Excellent written and verbal communication skills, ability to work with the public and with a team
Additional Skills Valid driver's license, good driving record required, ability to meet physical demands such as standing for up to 4 hours, lifting 70 lbs. and walking up to 2 miles

Step 1: Meet Basic Qualifications

Most transportation security officers work through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's TSA, although some airports may contract with private employment agencies to fill TSO positions. Applicants for TSO positions, whether they are hired through the TSA or by private companies, must be citizens of the United States and hold a high school diploma or GED. They must pass an aptitude test, a drug and alcohol screening and a background check. Physical exams and fitness tests are also required to ensure applicants can perform the extensive standing and lifting required for the job.

Success Tip:

  • Improve writing skills. Officers regularly fill out documents and incident reports by hand or on a computer, so courses in writing or typing can be beneficial to candidates.

Step 2: Complete TSO Training

Typically, TSO training consists of about 40 hours of classroom work and 60 hours of on-the-job experience. Trainees learn screening techniques and are taught how to operate the various screening devices used in passenger or baggage screening. Officers receive policy, procedure and customer service training and they also learn how to handle emergency situations.

Success Tip:

  • Consider completing a training program in x-ray technology. Working in a security position at an airport can involve use of x-rays, so completing an x-ray technology training program or course may be beneficial to have on a resume. In training courses like these, students learn about x-ray safety, protection and production. A comprehensive test must also be completed in courses like these.

Step 3: Earn Certification

After completing the initial TSO training, new security officers must pass the TSA certification exam. The exam involves the simulated screening of passengers or baggage while following TSA policies and procedures. Security officers can be certified as either passenger or baggage screeners, or receive dual certification by passing both exams. TSA certification must be renewed annually by taking additional training courses and exams.

Step 4: Take Advantage of Career Development Opportunities

Many job tiers exist at the TSA beyond the entry-level TSO classification. Security officers hired by private agencies may also be eligible for TSA jobs if they meet the specific job requirements. Officers may initially advance to the position of Lead TSO, which oversees screening operations and personnel. They can further move up the job ladder to become supervisors and expert or master-level TSOs, who perform supervisory tasks and teach training courses.

Some colleges offer TSA training programs that provide students with a strong knowledge base in homeland security, federal policies and procedures, risk assessment, intelligence analysis and security management, transportation and border security and other related topics. These programs may help security officers improve their skills and advance their careers.

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