Where is the new talent?
As you look around at any of the AREMA Meetings, it is obvious that there are very few twenty somethings and thirty somethings. Articles in recent RR Trade Journals have also noted this situation: There are fewer and fewer young people to fill the vacancies created when the old heads retire. Some parts of our industry are affected more than others.
RR Contractors seem to be doing quite well. If you deal at all with staff members of most RR Contractors, either large or small, it is not unusual to find talented younger people who are taking up the reins of control, and having a positive impact on their company and their customers. The NRC should consider itself lucky. The contractor organism is being replenished, and the new growth is gaining good, on-the-ground practical experience.
What about the Railroads themselves? It doesn't appear that they are doing quite that well. Oh, there is new blood, but the home-grown and trained talent is not there like it once was. The railroads are having to go outside their industry to recruit personnel who often do not know a spike from a nail. There do seem to be lots of younger people out on the property, but the senior management often avoids exposing them in adequate numbers to experiences that prepare them for higher and greater things. Witness the training program that Al Perlman began on the New York Central, a program that continued with the Penn Central. Many alums of that well executed effort went on to make significant contributions. Other lines duplicated Perlman's plan with varied success, but point out to me one Class One today who intentionally appeals to college grads with a training program that leads to a fulfilling career, a training program that provides an education unavailable anywhere else.
No doubt it has become harder to convince college grads to work in an industry that is not as sexy as the promise of today's computer and IT. But recruiting can be done. There are a great number of people who love the Railroad Industry, and would welcome the chance to participate, if adequate training were made available, training that might not involve mind numbing hours working the extra board, or running a hydralic spiker.
The sad thing is that there is another area which suffers from this lack of training even more than the Railroads themselves. Consider Railroad Engineering and Consulting firms: These firms once harvested the experienced talent raised on Railroad Properties. Now these firms have to hire engineering staff directly off college campuses, and the lack of specific railroad knowledge held by these recruits ends up making life difficult for everyone.
And don't get me started on the staff of many of our public agencies, personnel who are responsible for making engineering and purchasing decisions for their Light Rail and Commuter Rail Projects. At least, don't get me started today. There will be more to come on this topic, I can assure you.
But in the meantime, consider that by some analysis, fully one half of all Class One Railroad Engineering Staff will retire within the next ten years. That means a great opportunity exists for younger people to move up and excercise authority. The issue is, will they have the experience needed for that exercise? Hopefully, they will have received it somewhere, because the railroads will be forced to place them in positions of authority, experienced or not.