To fulfill its mandates, the TSA needed to hire and train 30,000 passenger screeners and 26,000 baggage screeners for airports in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam. Some have called it the largest mobilization of a workforce in history, said Gale Rossides, chief support systems officer and former associate undersecretary for training and quality performance for the TSA. In July 2002, it started hiring up to 1,000 people per week. The final airport was federalized on Nov. 19, 2002, just one year after the ATSA legislation was signed to form the agency. By the time TSA had worked its way across the country, replacing the personnel who worked at the checkpoints and the personnel who worked as baggage screeners, it had replaced 85 percent of the workforce employed in the screener occupations in the airports, said Rossides.
“The ATSA provisions were very specific in terms of the deadlines and the mandates that we had to meet,” said Rossides. Most of these deadlines for hiring and training screeners had to be met within 12 months from the date of passage of the Act, or just six weeks beyond that.
Many people believed it was impossible. In December of 2001, the TSA had one employee, said Rossides, the first undersecretary, John Magaw. “He literally was the only person in TSA in December 2001,” she said. “I came on board in early January, and in the month of January there were only 13 permanent employees on TSA’s rolls. Then, by Dec. 31 of that same year, we were over 60,000 strong.”
To hire, train and equip that workforce, the TSA turned to partnerships with private-sector organizations. NCS Pearson was responsible for recruiting and assessing the screener workforce. Lockheed Martin trained the passenger checkpoint screeners and did the reconstruction and reconfiguration of the checkpoints across the country. Boeing worked with TSA on the explosive detection and ETD (explosive trace detection) equipment deployment, as well as training the screeners who would work in the checked baggage area. Vanity Fair worked to get uniforms for the screeners, and Unisys helped with the IT infrastructure. It was a complex process, with hundreds of steps to be completed for each airport.
“As we went into each airport, we deployed these hundreds of steps, all being managed by people made up of both the public-sector TSA personnel and consultants we had hired that were part of our TSA staffing, as well as these private-sector contractors,” said Rossides.
One of the major successes in the process, according to Rossides, was designing an assessment process based on scientific analysis of the knowledge, skills and abilities required of a screener. Through assessments, TSA was able to ensure that the people it was bringing on board were the most qualified to perform the job. New employees had to meet four criteria: U.S. citizenship, high school diploma or equivalent, English language proficiency and a background check and drug screening. Once they had met these criteria, screeners would go through an assessment process that judged their ability to interpret X-ray images, lift heavy loads, interface with passengers, identify unseen objects and more.
“At the end of the assessment, they either passed or failed,” said Rossides. “And those who passed then went on to an interview and ultimately, potential selection as a screener.” All in all, 1.6 million people applied for the job, 360,000 successfully passed every phase of the assessment center tests, and just under 60,000 were selected to work in the two screener occupations. “Since we started with such a huge pool and went through the assessment process and the testing process, we ended up with a very high-caliber individual in the end who was appointed to the screener job,” said Rossides.
Once hired, both the passenger and the baggage screeners had to go through nearly 45 hours of curricula, including classroom training, computer-based training and hands-on practical experience with the equipment. After that, both groups were required to go through 60 more hours of on-the-job training. “That’s actual on-the-job training under the mentoring and guidance of a more experienced screener or screener supervisor,” said Rossides. “Then, both have requirements as we go forward for recurrent training.”
According 0to Elmer Nelson, vice president, Homeland Security Solutions, Lockheed Martin Systems Management, passenger screeners went through about 17 hours of classroom lecture, 10 hours of computer-based training, 11 hours of practical lab and about six hours of exams. The computer-based training was good for helping them learn image interpretation, but Nelson said that some things are better learned in person. “For example, as Americans it’s not in our comfort zone to walk up and be able to address somebody and say, ‘I’m going to pat you down,’” he said. “So because of that, you really need to have that one-on-one training and get people to be comfortable and practice that.”
While the original plan with Lockheed Martin was to provide passenger screener training at 35 permanent sites, the TSA decided it wanted the training conducted in the airports instead, said Nelson. This complicated the process, but Lockheed Martin’s experience training around 200,000 students a year through various contracts has taught the company a few things about handling logistics. Classroom training kits were pre-staged in Oklahoma City, and Lockheed worked with a trucking company to ensure that if the notice came Friday for training that needed to be conducted Monday, they’d be ready to roll.
Another tool critical to Lockheed Martin’s success was providing a Web site to report to and to get reports from the field. “We established a Web site very early on, and we used that for both communication and standardization, which was really important because TSA changed different things as they learned things and got feedback from the field,” said Nelson. Instructors were required to visit the site daily to get the latest updates and incorporate those into their classes. In addition, the Web site was used for data reporting.
Boeing, which was responsible for training more than 26,000 baggage screeners, worked with AIS to hire and train instructors and deliver the training. “During the peak, we were scheduling up to 1,700 instructors and training at 30 to 40 airports per week,” said Ron Enneking, vice president of government training at AIS.
According to Enneking, AIS and Boeing used a three-tiered LMS system, proprietary to AIS, to manage the training. The first tier, a wireless Blackberry device, allowed for LMS functionality in the field, registering, tracking and recording attendance. The second tier, a classroom-based LMS featuring a network of Dell laptops, allowed students to take computer-based training and testing, as well as helping the instructors deliver XML content that could be updated incrementally in the field, said Enneking. The third tier was a central LMS, which hosts the field activity and maintains a central library of content and student, class and instructor records for reporting purposes.
Boeing and Lockheed Martin faced similar challenges in getting so much training out so quickly to so many brand-new employees. For one thing, the airports had to remain open through the training process, with no disruption to travel. In addition, the logistics were overwhelming. Kenellias Smith, deputy director of training operations for Boeing, said, “The biggest challenge was the logistics of integrating the instructors, the students, the classroom materials and the airport equipment at the same time. That’s probably the biggest heartache that we had, and furthermore, we probably drove out travel agents nuts.” They had to book more than 13,000 airline tickets and 82,000 hotel room nights, in addition to booking and setting up training rooms and handling equipment and course materials for 1,400 classes, said Enneking, and that was for the baggage screeners alone.
The logistics weren’t any less of a strain for Lockheed Martin. According to Nelson, the company used 12,300 computers, set up 3,300 classrooms at 653 training sites—646 within the continental United States and seven outside. “We had 2,000 equipment shipments, which totaled about 4 million pounds and covered about 3 million miles,” he added.
Lockheed Martin met with TSA every Monday to go over lessons learned the week before to make the process work more smoothly. “Part of that also, a part I’m very proud of, is cost control,” said Nelson. “We talked about that every day, and whenever there were decisions, we weighed the options and looked at the implications, not only from cost, but quality of training and schedule, and then TSA would make the decisions based on that.”
According to Smith, cost is always an issue. “We constantly monitored the logistics cost,” he explained. “That’s where our biggest cost driver was, so the only way we could try to monitor costs was to get our arms around the classroom cost and everything associated with that to try to keep a hand on the budget.”
Ultimately, TSA was able to meet its mandate, getting its entire screener workforce hired, trained and deployed by the deadline. And, as Smith explained, “The very presence of a well-trained screener force is a tremendous deterrent in and of itself.” Smith and Enneking said that the major success was completing the training and meeting the deadline. There was a pass rate of 97 percent for the baggage screeners.
To ensure its success training the passenger screeners, Lockheed Martin brought its systems management approach to the table, according to Nelson. “The logistics that went into making it happen and then the reporting afterward, as well as having quality instructors deliver the training, makes it a whole system,” said Nelson. “You have to look at it that way because if you don’t, your cost is just going to skyrocket because you’re focusing on one piece and not the whole.”
According to Rossides, TSA is now working on rolling out an LMS across the airports. It is also establishing a leadership institute with some other agencies. In addition, annual recertification requirements have been established by ATSA for the screeners. Rossides said, “Those will be certification processes based on both demonstration of skill as well as performance evaluation.”
Looking forward, Lockheed Martin will be working to implement the Plateau 4 Learning Management System to manage the online, classroom and on-the-job security training for TSA employees, allowing individual regions and airports to manage training locally, while providing TSA with an overall view of the agency’s training picture.
Ultimately, every day, every passenger who walks through the airport checkpoints to get on a plane can see the success of the TSA and its partners in hiring and training an entire workforce of screeners. “We have roughly 2 million people a day who come through our so-called doors as passengers across the country, so we have 2 million opportunities a day for customer interaction,” said Rossides. “But the bottom line is that we have enormously patriotic people that are working throughout the different occupations in TSA doing what I call ‘the heavy lift,’ and it’s back-breaking work because it started from nothing.
Rossides added, “USA Today did a survey in March, and the traveling public basically told them that people feel more secure at airports today than they ever have before because of knowing that TSA’s screeners and the TSA is in the airports responsible for the security of the aviation system. And that’s extraordinarily motivating and important because that’s what we set out to do—not only to secure the system, but to restore the confidence of the American people to go back to flying.”
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