Continued fears over attacks against the homeland mean national security remains a priority, which is a contributing factor to projected job growth in the homeland security sector. As the sector has grown over the past decade, homeland security officers have increasingly teamed with other professionals in problem-solving missions.
Professionals interested in using their talents and knowledge in this vital field may find opportunities in a wide variety of settings. Here are some factors to consider when pursuing a career path in homeland security.
For many people, airports and shipping ports are the first places that come to mind when they think of settings where they would expect to encounter homeland security agents. In addition to centers of commerce, exchange and travel, homeland security agents are also found in numerous settings across government sectors, including:
- Border Protection
- Coast Guard Stations
- Secret Service
- Federal Emergency Management Agency
In both the private and governmental sectors, there also are many positions that support the invaluable work of homeland security agents:
- Cybersecurity, Information Security – Understanding how computers work and how information networks can be vulnerable to security threats is the primary concern of professionals working in this field. A bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems or a master’s degree in Cybersecurity is a typical requirement for these positions. The need to monitor and adapt systems to ever-evolving security threats makes the employment outlook promising for individuals seeking a career in cybersecurity and information networks.
- Immigration, Travel and Transportation – This field requires an understanding of how people and goods enter and leave the country and how they move through the rail, waterway and highway systems.
- Scientific Study, Research and Biosecurity – Individuals skilled in chemistry, physics and biology are needed to assess and mitigate risks and threats posed by chemical, radiological and biological sources. Careers in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) include field and laboratory work, experimentation and pure research. Biosecurity threats are a growing concern.
- Prevention and Response – Probing current security systems, finding vulnerabilities and providing an effective response is the responsibility of individuals working in prevention and response roles. Whether in industrial facilities, office buildings, businesses or communities, these professionals must identify and mitigate threats.
- Emergency Management – Emergency management specialists are skilled in helping communities and businesses respond to and recover from disasters and other public safety crises. These professionals include first responders, as well as individuals working in call centers, transportation hubs and other facilities. A bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum level of education required and some employers may require candidates to have a master’s degree.
- Infrastructure Protection – Individuals in this field seek to secure the nation’s vital networks against attacks or interruptions, including the highway system, electrical grid and water supply, as well as telecommunications and waste management. Students pursuing these careers may benefit from gaining experience working with materials or in management.
- Mission Support – Agencies within the DHS require individuals skilled in performing the day-to-day tasks that keep buildings safe, maintain communications and keep vehicles, computer systems and other equipment in working order. Mission support roles can involve access to sensitive intelligence and close contact with front-line workers. Some of these roles may require special training.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree in a homeland security or criminal justice field, candidates for employment in homeland security may also require knowledge of specific technology in order to advance their careers. Strong critical-thinking skills and the ability to work independently or as part of a team are important attributes. Homeland security professionals must display integrity and will likely need to pass a comprehensive background check based on their level of duty and responsibility.
Depending on the type of agency and the specific duties, candidates may benefit from obtaining professional credentials. For example, the American Board for Certification in Homeland Security (ABCHS) offers five progressive certification levels:
- Certified in Homeland Security, CHS® Level I
- Certified in Homeland Security, CHS® Level II
- Certified in Homeland Security, CHS® Level III
- Certified in Homeland Security, CHS® Level IV
- Certified in Homeland Security, CHS® Level V
Each certification requires candidates to pass a standardized exam, and possess increasing levels of professional knowledge, responsibility and experience.
Because competition can be intense for jobs in homeland security, candidates should consider the potential benefits of obtaining their education from a highly respected and regionally accredited university. They can also seek degree programs that offer professional opportunities through internships, alumni networks and college career offices. Additionally, working professionals may consider degree programs offered 100% online, which can allow them to advance their education while remaining in full-time employment. Many governmental agencies and private companies also offer tuition assistance to help employees pursue degrees or other credentials.
Professional organizations can be an excellent source of educational opportunities through conferences, networking, webinars and mentoring.