Security Support Assistants answer call of duty at John F. Kennedy International Airport

Thursday, June 30, 2022
New hire class photo

Earlier this year, 18 hub airports were authorized to establish a new role – the Security Support Assistant (SSA). Today, there are around 49 airports where SSAs are working closely with officers and passengers.

John F. Kennedy International (JFK) airport was one the first airports to receive a SSA provision and didn’t waste any time seizing the opportunity. “We shared USAJOBS vacancy announcement for the position with our JFK workforce, briefed it with our management team and supervisors,” explained Acting Federal Security Director (AFSD)-Mission Support Valerie Doyle.

Nearly 25 new SSAs have on boarded at JFK after the local human resources team conducted assessments of about 110 candidates. This innovative new position has provided recruits with the opportunity to join TSA through a restructured hiring process.

The SSA can perform routine tasks in support of TSA operations at airports. Following 30 days on the job, the SSA is eligible to convert to the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) position once the standard TSO hiring requirements are successfully met.

Member of class photo
From left, Human Resource Specialist Rosa Billingslea, Supervisor Transportation Security Officer Teddy Jara, Acting Federal Security Director-Mission Support Valerie Doyle, JFK’s first SSA new hire class, STSO Nirmala Itwaru, Acting Administrative Officer Michael Laxton, Lead TSA Officer Russell Stuart, Acting Federal Security Director John Essig, pictured on the first day of orientation. (Photo by Claudia Gomez)

The first SSA new hire class at JFK was held in May and 13 candidates were administered the oath of office by JFK’s Acting Federal Security Director (AFSD) John Essig. “We are looking forward to converting them to JFK Transportation Security Officers,” said Doyle.

After graduating, JFK SSAs perform tasks that include managing the queue, assisting passengers, helping with divestiture, as well as moving checked and carry-on baggage to and from the X-ray conveyer systems. They also help with visitor escorts, supply requisition, running bins, telephone support, stocking and area cleaning.

“It’s going very well. I made some new friends with the TSOs and I like the job very much,” said SSA Luke Cropsey. “My career progression plan for right now is to take the computer base test and pass and begin Phase I training to become as TSO.”

Ragin Jabria, another SSA, shared gratitude for the opportunity to work as an SSA. “I am enjoying JFK Terminal 4 managers and supervisors. [The] certified workers are all welcoming and overall hard workers. I am counting down the days, because I definitely want to see myself as TSO with my stripes and move forward and up in the ranks, becoming a great supervisor and a manager one day.”

JFK has not yet converted any of their SSA new hires to the TSO position. However, a second SSA class of 10 new hires has on boarded and additional new hire classes are being formed.

“The screening management team at JFK has embraced the SSA employees with open arms by providing support and guidance in their new environment. The workforce has expressed gratitude for the support and encourages them to work towards converting to a TSO,” said Doyle.

Recruitment & Field Hiring Operations Deputy Director Thomas Tedesco said, “Since the inception of the SSA hiring process several major procedure improvements have already been implemented to reduce the administrative burden on airports and expedite the issuance of selection certificates.” The SSA hiring process no longer emulates the TSO hiring method.

Initially, SSA candidates are required to undergo a criminal history and credit check in addition to answering a series of questions on the applicant self-assessment questionnaire. During the SSA to TSO conversion process candidates are required to successfully pass the computer-based test, structured interview and medical/drug evaluation.

“It’s too early to tell how effective these changes to the hiring process will be, but there is no doubt that they will all further reduce the time to hire,” said Tedesco.

“SSAs are a great addition to supporting the TSA mission at the airport,” Doyle shared. “While supporting JFK’s TSOs, it also allows the SSAs to experience the importance of the job and at the same time grooming them to convert to a TSO through a shorter process which is a win/win situation.”

By TeaNeisha Barker, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs