Helping to Protect Others: Employment Opportunities in Homeland Security
by Ursula Furi-Perry
Bountiful job opportunities in Homeland security
Homeland security is a fairly recently established part of the government and involves federal, state and local or municipal organizations alike. On the federal side, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) encompasses several agencies, including Border and Transportation Security, the Inspector General's office, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. State agencies also run the gamut from emergency preparedness to disaster relief, and some even include the state's department of public safety. As such, the term "homeland security" can refer to a great number of agencies and resources, many of which have been in existence for a while. "It's really more about coordinating existing resources," explained Liz Christopher, Public Information Officer at the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state's homeland security operations.
With such multifaceted and complex infrastructures, departments of homeland security offer a variety of titles for job seekers. "Here on the state level, we have an executive director and several positions under him [who oversee] existing resources," Christopher stated, noting that executives' backgrounds range from public safety to military service and prior government work. To work in homeland security, a team attitude is absolutely necessary. "It's a new field and a lot of the programs are still new," said Christopher. "In terms of the agencies working together, it's important to be a team player." The job also requires a passion for helping others and working towards the common goal of protecting our home, Christopher said.
Getting started in the field may mean beginning at the municipal level. "I would suggest getting involved with local agencies," advised Christopher. "Start with your local first responders," including police and fire forces. Christopher also noted the emergence of college courses and majors focusing on homeland security, which can offer a gateway into the field for new grads and those looking for a career change. Open positions are generally advertised on each state's website, as well as the federal government's job site, USAJobs.opm.gov. Many positions require background checks and some level of government clearance.
While most positions don't specifically call for a legal background, prior experience in the law certainly doesn't hurt. "Since there is a lot of new legislature, [a legal background] may be helpful," Christopher believes. She noted that laws around homeland security are continually changing and therefore, the ability to track legislation is a plus in any position. Candidates with legal experience may also have the upper hand when it comes to knowledge of the legal process and government structure. Several federal DHS branches even hire legal professionals specifically. For example, a recent search on the department's job board turned up openings for a paralegals and legal assistants at the Inspector General's office, the Coast Guard, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau.
In addition to government jobs, homeland security employment may also be found at private government contractors, like those hired for defense planning. As the need for personnel continues to grow, some private companies have begun offering services for government job seekers. "We essentially set up a website for government contractors who are looking for security-cleared personnel," said Michael Ang, Manager of HomelandSecurityJobs.us. Ang says the backlog for such workers is huge, the interest in his services is steadily increasing, and he's seen a great demand for cleared personnel since his website's inception. Even the federal government has begun looking for employees through private means: as an example, some branches of DHS now use Monster.com in addition to the government's public job board.
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As the field keeps evolving, job opportunities will likely keep increasing. "Homeland security is still growing; it's a very young idea and concept," said Christopher. "As we figure out more ways to protect people, it will continue to grow."