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Back on Track
Rising railroad shipments signal a growing economy - and job for veterans.
by Dan Fazio

Anyone who doubts the American economy is recovering should talk to a railroad executive. The demand-driven freight railroad industry is considered an accurate gauge of the economy, and Class I railroads – North America’s largest carriers – are reporting a steady uptick in railroad shipments, a sure sign the U.S. economy is back on track.back-on-track219x292

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) tracks the amount of freight moved by railroads on a weekly basis. It reported a 7.3-percent increase in railroad shipments in 2010. Rail traffic continued to rise through the first quarter of 2011, according to the AAR.

“Freight railroads are considered good barometers of general economic activity because of the variety of goods they ship and the wide geographic reach of their transportation networks,” said Cindy Earhart, vice president of human resources for Norfolk Southern Corporation, which operates 20,000 miles of track in 22 states and the District of Columbia, primarily in the eastern United States.

That Means Jobs!
More than 67,000 baby boomers will be eligible to retire from the railroads over the next five years, according to the AAR. Combined with the rebound in rail traffic, that means tens of thousands of good jobs will be available with companies that boast a long track record of hiring military veterans.

“The combination of attrition, driven largely by baby boomer retirements, and our growth projections translate into job opportunities for America’s veterans at Union Pacific in 2011 and beyond,” said Barb Schaefer, senior vice president of human resources for Union Pacific. The railroad predicts it will hire 4,200 employees in 2011 alone.

Good Jobs!
Norfolk Southern, which reported a 14-percent increase in volume in 2010, hired 1,900 conductors last year and expects to hire 2,500 new employees this year – including 1,500 conductors. Norfolk Southern also plans to hire maintenance and mechanical employees. With nearly 3,500 veterans already in its ranks, the railroad will be looking for transitioning veterans to recruit, Earhart said.

“Norfolk Southern is poised for growth in 2011,” she said. “We believe the rail industry has good jobs — potentially lifelong careers — for military veterans.”

Indeed. The average full-time rail worker earned $81,563 in 2009, according to U.S. government data, plus benefits worth $25,522 for a total average compensation of $107,085. That’s about 60 percent more than the average U.S. employee, whose total compensation averaged $64,552 in 2009.

Right on Track
Schaefer said veterans with training in aviation electronics and diesel engine mechanics can easily transfer their skills to Union Pacific’s diesel electrician, diesel mechanic and work equipment mechanic positions. Other railroad jobs ideal for veterans include signal maintainers and positions within the company’s Operating Management Training (OMT) program.

The OMT career track is working out well for Mark Major, a former Navy deep sea diver who joined Union Pacific after running a start-up business with his wife for five years when he left the military. Major is training to become a manager of yard operations – moving trains – for Union Pacific’s Portland Service Unit.

“Being in the management of transportation operations side of the railroad, my leadership and decision-making experience has paid dividends on the railroad,” said Major, a former petty officer second class who went from Sailor to land lubber when he joined the Army National Guard in 2002. “Another advantage to my military training is understanding the importance of safety. Safety is my first responsibility at Union Pacific.”

Veterans are Well-Prepared
Joshua Brown, 34, is an operations supervisor trainee at Norfolk Southern. The former Navy field medic followed up his naval career with four years in the Marine Corps as a mortarman before pursuing a civilian career in the railroad industry in 2006. Brown’s military training and experience prepared him well for railroading.

“I often work different hours, without direct supervision, and in less than desirable weather conditions, all of which are second nature due to my military experience,” said Brown, a sergeant who still serves his country as a combat medic in the Army National Guard. “I also use the leadership abilities I acquired in the military.”

Easy Transition
U.S. troops across all branches are trained to operate safely in harsh environments, an advantage that makes veterans attractive to railroad hiring managers. The focus on safety helped Scott Dean quickly launch a civilian career as a freight conductor with CSX when he left the Marine Corps in 2007.

“In the Marine Corps we focused on safety every day, we practiced safety in everything from physical training to the qualifying on the rifle range,” Dean said. “Safety was of the utmost importance in the USMC. So transitioning from the military to CSX was not difficult for me because of the USMC focus on safety and leadership skills.”

The former corporal met a CSX recruiter at his Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshop and was hired a month after finishing active duty in April 2007. He felt at home right away.

“CSX goals are very similar to those of the military, with emphasis on safety, teamwork and communication,” Dean said. “Knowing how to work safely, operate within a team environment and have superior communication are ways of getting the job done correctly and bringing everyone home safely.”

‘We Clicked Immediately!’
Natasha Richardson’s transition from the Marine Corps to the railroads took a little longer. With children at home to support, she worked as a self-employed hair stylist while earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In October 2009, Richardson met a Union Pacific recruiter who is a fellow veteran. “We clicked immediately!” Richardson said. She began training as an engineering associate in January 2010 and will be promoted this summer to assistant manager of signal maintenance.

Richardson, 34, said her military experience helps her fit well into the fast-paced environment of the railroad industry, where change is constant.

“We are able to distinguish which tasks are most pertinent and complete them in a logical manner,” said Richardson, who separated in 2002 as a corporal. “Additionally, in the event of an emergency, we are also able to make sound decisions under fatigue and pressure. A common saying that we all learned in the Marine Corps is to ‘lead, follow, or get out of the way!’ ”

Get On Board
As fuel prices rise, America’s railroads have a clear advantage over other modes of transportation: A train can move a ton of freight nearly 500 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel. Higher oil prices may hurt consumers at the gas pump, but it could help railroads continue to grow. Growth means jobs, so if you’re getting ready to transition from the military consider a high-paying civilian career where you won’t grow bored. Richardson hasn’t.

“I love the fact that every day is different!” Richardson said. “Every day presents a new challenge and a new possibility!” 

All Aboard!
Veterans working on the railroads give you their best transition tips

Mark Major
Operations Management Associate
Union Pacific
U.S. Navy (1993-2002)
U.S. Army National Guard (2002-Present)

If you are transitioning from active duty, start planning 18 months out. Create a master résumé and then tailor job-specific résumés from the master. Don’t undersell yourself! Military members have lots of intangible attributes that many civilian sector training neglects, for instance loyalty, “can-do” attitude, “soldiers first, mission always” (employees safety first, customers always), discipline, respect and a great work ethic.

Natasha Richardson
Engineering Associate
Union Pacific
U.S. Marine Corps (1997-2002)

Learn to be called by your first name again! My rank was my first name for so many years, and I didn’t answer to Natasha for several months after separating. Learn to relax, not every moment at work is rigid. One thing that the military trains us in is how to remain calm under pressure. This will set you apart from everyone else. There may be a time, in your personal life or at work, where things seem hectic and out of control, a time where a lot of tasks need to be completed at one time. Choose the most important task and start there. I carry this into my own personal life.

Scott Hilton Dean
Freight Conductor
CSX
U.S. Marine Corps (2003-2007)

The best advice I could give would be to make sure you have a plan. If you’re open to relocation, be prepared to move and know where you want to relocate; and know what kind of employment you want. Don’t wait until the last minute to try to figure it all out. 

Joshua Brown
Operations Supervisor Trainee
Norfolk Southern Corporation
U.S. Navy (1994-2002)
U.S. Marine Corps (2002-2006)
U.S. Army National Guard (2007-Present)

Have a good plan, and put an application in with Norfolk Southern.


Norfolk Southern Corporation
HQ: Norfolk, Va.
Employees: 28,600
Veteran Employees: 12%
2010 Revenue: $9.5 billion
www.nscorp.com 
www.nscorp.com/careers 

Union Pacific
HQ: Omaha, Neb.
Employees: 43,500
Veteran Employees: 24%
2010 Revenue: $17 billion
www.up.com 
www.unionpacific.jobs 

CSX
HQ: Jacksonville, Fla.
Employees: 29,755
Veteran Employees: 22.5% (including 18% of new hires in 2010)
2010 Revenue: More than $10 billion
www.csx.com


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