Seeking to ameliorate the steady loss of Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officers at both her airport and nationwide, Miami International Airport Department of Homeland Security/TSA executive assistant Laritza Puentes has proposed a way to better inform TSA personnel about the available career development opportunities in the agency.
The recent Center for Homeland Defense and Security Emergence Program graduate (Emergence cohort 2201) is pursuing a change initiative that seeks to create an interdepartmental program providing TSA personnel with a centralized location for all career development opportunities in an effort to enhance TSA officer retention.
Located at the TSA-MIA Career Development Center, the centralized site is still under development, according to Puentes, but will be designed to offer many programs and resources for current TSA officers in pursuit of an ongoing career with the agency.
Puentes said she decided to pursue the Emergence career development change initiative when she realized how much of an issue officer retention has become with Miami International Airport alone losing 4-5 officers per month to other agencies, which she called an “alarming rate.”
As part of her Emergence project, Puentes said she did research including officer surveys, review of exit interviews, and conducted employee engagement sessions. Other than pay, she said career advancement was one of the top issues.
While Miami International is one of the nation’s largest airports, employing about 1,700 TSA officers, Puentes said she believes retention is a national issue affecting airports across the country.
“My airport is continuously hiring and it seems to never be enough,” Puentes said. “[Officers] don’t realize what TSA can offer them [in career opportunities]. The opportunities are not advertised well.”
Puentes said she is now working with a team of about 10 people on implementation of the project, with her focus on communications or “how to get the word out,” including production of a training video showing employees how to access the agency’s career management portal that offers information on how educational opportunities and how to fill out a resume, and the like.
In fact, Puentes said she first learned about the CHDS Emergence Program through her TSA career development program and said she was intrigued because it included a critical thinking element and offered an in-residence aspect instead of entirely virtual education.
“[Officers] don’t realize what TSA can offer them [in career opportunities]. The opportunities are not advertised well.”Laritza Puentes
She said her Emergence experience at CHDS was inspiring, especially given the dedication and enthusiasm of her fellow participants.
“To hear everyone else in the cohort and how passionate they are about change in their organizations, it gave me more fire and passion to pursue change in my own agency,” Puentes said. “[CHDS is] doing great work. It’s making a big difference.”
Puentes is also touting CHDS and its work as the nation’s preeminent homeland security educator to the highest levels of its DHS-FEMA sponsorship.
While working on DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ travel detail, Puentes was riding with the top DHS official to an event when she had an opportunity to tell him about CHDS and the Emergence Program. She recounted that Secretary Mayorkas said the program sounded great and said he wanted to do something to recognize the individuals in the cohort and eventually settled on providing special certificates with his signature that were handed out to all Emergence cohort 2201 graduates at their January 20, 2023, graduation ceremony.