Changes To Aviation Screener Training – Are They Flawed?

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By Steve Lawson.

About two years ago, the author wrote a couple of articles about aviation screener training in Australia and then presented on the subject at the Australian Security Industry Association Ltd (ASIAL) Security 2013 Exhibition & Conference. In the first of those articles, he said, “A change to screener training to some extent… presupposes that there is something wrong with the current screening regime in Australia or that some weakness needs to be fixed urgently… From my experience with screening in Australia and overseas, aviation screening in Australia is, if not the best, certainly among the best in the world.” He stands by that statement for current screeners. However, since then, the new training requirements have been introduced.

The changes to aviation screener training are an example of a process where many experienced people have put into place a regime that is logical and was developed with a huge amount of industry input. Yet it is fundamentally flawed. Firstly, let us look at the current regime and then where there are issues.

To be qualified, an airport screener must hold either a:

  • Certificate ll in Aviation Transport Protection, or
  • Certificate ll in Security Operations.

Note that it is no longer a requirement for a screener to hold a security licence.

The Certificate II in Security Operations is the old qualification and will remain as an alternative qualification during the transition period, after which only the Certificate II in Aviation Transport Protection will be acceptable.

The Certificate II in Aviation Transport Protection is divided into two qualifications:

  • AVI20713 – Certificate II in Aviation Transport Protection (Checked Baggage Screener), and
  • AVI20613 – Certificate II in Aviation Transport Protection (Passenger/Non-Passenger Screener).

As nationally recognised training, these qualifications are delivered by Registered Training Organisations (RTOs). However, there are restrictions on the RTOs that may provide these qualifications for screeners at security-controlled airports. Abbreviating the restrictions, they must have access to:

  • the facilities of a security controlled airport where they can train and assess participants using the National Assessment Tool (NAT), and
  • the NAT.

The NAT covers four of the units of competence and is only provided to authorised RTOs that meet the conditions above. The NAT is consistent across all airports.

This all sounds very logical and was developed with industry consultation, so why is it flawed?

Firstly, are security companies going to hire someone who does not hold the relevant qualification? In practice, probably not. They will want to hire someone who at least holds a base qualification and then provide further training. Otherwise, they could spend an inordinate amount of money training a person only to find that he or she is unsuitable. The recruitment timeline would increase and, given the retention rate for screeners, could cause an issue at regional airports.

Secondly, to be a useful screener it is necessary to hold both qualifications; admittedly some units are the same, but not all.

Next, none of these qualifications are applicable to air cargo. It can be argued that a person able to screen checked baggage should be able to screen air cargo. If that is the case, then why are there different qualifications for checked baggage and passenger screeners? It can be argued that there is probably a greater difference between these qualifications and air cargo screening. At present there is not an air cargo screener role under the regulations, but there is in practice and it would be reasonable to assume that there will be in the reasonably near future.

Now let us consider the screener providers and their workforce. It is important to remember that almost all screening providers are security companies and at many airports they provide both airport screeners and airport guards. At many airports the same person may be both a screener and a guard. So does the new qualification cover both guards and screeners? No!

To be a guard, the regulations require that he or she:

  1. holds at least a Certificate II in Security Operations, or
  2. holds another qualification that, in the secretary’s opinion, is equivalent to a Certificate II in Security Operations, and
  3. is licensed as a security guard in the state or territory in which the airport is located, if required by state or territory legislation, and
  4. has completed training, approved by the secretary, which is designed to ensure familiarity with the Act (in particular, the power of an airport security guard under section 92) and the Regulations.

The Office of Transport Security (OTS) says that the Certificate II in Aviation Transport Protection qualification “is recognised as at least equivalent to Certificate II in Security Operations”. These are nice words, but it is not the equivalent of the Certificate II in Security Operations for security licence purposes so it cannot be argued that the Certificate II in Aviation Transport Protection covers point two above when a state security licence is required.

Once transition has completed, to work at an airport it is probable that a screener will need to hold three qualifications and a security licence!

The next problem is the number of RTOs that are authorised by the OTS to access the NAT. There are currently seven on the list, although it is possible that one or maybe two do not have the current qualifications on scope (they are not authorised by the Australian Skills Quality Authority [ASQA] to deliver the training).

Such a small group with such high entry barriers creates an oligopoly where these companies have control over the price. Oligopolies are not always bad, but they are like monopolies; with so few participants they have an inappropriate market power. They still compete, but it is not always as rigorous as it should be and typically an oligopoly will result in higher prices.

There is also an issue with the application of the NAT. While there is no suggestion that the examples given have happened, they are possible.

Consider this scenario. I am a security screener provider at an airport. I am not the screening authority. The screening authority provides access to the screening point to an RTO. (This assumes that the course is offered to people other than employees of the screening provider.) As the screening provider, these are just some of my questions:

  • As the company responsible for screening, do I have to accept the students working on a live screening point?
  • Who bears the cost of supervising those students?
  • If I am not supervising the students what relationship do I have to have with the trainer/supervisor?
  • Who has the liability in the event of a breach of the screening point when a student was involved?

Similarly, I am now a security screener provider at an airport and also the screening authority. I provide access to the screening point to an RTO. If I were the airport authority, I would have similar questions.

These issues can be fixed by including them in contracts, but contracts for something as complex at this cost money and are not usually bulletproof, especially when a breach occurs.

Other than criticising, what is the solution? It is quite simple really:

  1. Keep the Certificate II in Security Operations as the base qualification for screeners.
  2. Create a smaller aviation screener skill set. The skill set would be no more than four to five units providing skills across passenger, checked baggage and air cargo screening.
  3. Provide screening providers with a NAT that is conducted in the workplace. Consider variations of the NAT for different security categories of airports; so a person who was assessed at a category 1 airport can work at all other category 1 airports without further assessment, but a person who was assessed at, for example, a category 5 airport would need further assessment before being able to work at a higher category airport. This is not because there would be major differences in the NAT, but there should be an upgraded NAT to familiarise people with more complex environments.Points one and two would be provided by RTOs and do not require access to an airport. This act alone would increase competition and may have a downward pressure on training costs. In any case, there would be an immediate downward pressure by reducing the number of qualifications. Importantly, screening providers would have a pool of applicants who already hold a base qualification. The role of the screening provider now becomes the application of the NAT.

    Point three would be provided by the screening provider. Effectively, a person who completes points one and two would hold a base qualification. Point three is an endorsement that allows them to work at a security-controlled airport.

    An additional advantage would be that other industry areas, such as courts, prisons, detention centres and event security, could modify the screener skill to suit their environment.

    Should the government immediately drop the current system and implement these suggestions? Obviously not, but there needs to be another good look at screener training before the Certificate II in Security Operations is dropped as an acceptable qualification. In security, the best security is usually simple. It is the same in training; it should be simple and relevant.

    Part two of this article in the next issue of Security Solutions Magazine continues the discussion on aviation training, looking specifically at the recent government changes for air cargo training and the consequences of those changes.

    Steve Lawson has over 20 years’ experience in aviation security. As a Security Executive with Qantas Airways, Steve held a number of senior management roles covering all aspects of aviation security from policy development to airport operations. He was sent to New York immediately following the 9/11 attacks to manage the Qantas response and undertook a similar role following the 2002 Bali Bombings. On his return to Australia, he was appointed Security Manager Freight for the Qantas Group. Since 2007 he has been a Director of AvSec Consulting in partnership with Bill Dent, a fellow former Qantas Security Exec. Today Avsec Consulting provides consultants from the US, NZ, ME, Israel and Europe.

    Steve can be contacted on 0404685103 or slawson@avsecconsulting.com.

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