Rail workers wanted: High-school grads, career-changers are welcome, recruiters say


By Julie Sneider, Senior Associate Editor 

What’s the best strategy for landing a job at a railroad or rail supply company? That’s the No. 1 question three industry representatives took on during an April 21 webinar presented by the League of Railway Women.  

The webinar was the first in a series of four the LRW is hosting in the coming months as part of its new online Career Center, which was launched to help match job candidates with rail employers hungry for new talent to fill vacancies. 

Moderated by LRW Director-at-Large Erika Bruhnke, the panel featured Beth Whited, executive vice president of sustainability and strategy at Union Pacific Railroad; Joe Daloisio, track division manager at Railroad Construction Co. Inc.; and Farah Tabibi, senior manager of professional recruiting at TrinityRail. 

UP “Union Pacific is actively recruiting high-school graduates to be transportation workers.” — Beth Whited, Union Pacific Railroad

Bruhnke, who is vice president of training services at Railpros Inc., opened the event by asking each panelist to answer the question: How does one know if he/she is qualified for a position in railroading? Job-seekers don’t necessarily have to meet every qualification listed when applying for a particular position, all three panelists explained. 

“If the job description is super specific to rail, we may be looking for an accreditation or license,” UP’s Whited said. “But in general, we will be looking at your experience, previous work history, background and technical skills. Think broadly about what you’ve done [in previous jobs] and your capabilities and whether you are a good fit.” 

Advice: Don’t be afraid to apply 

Daloisio looks for candidates who demonstrate enthusiasm and are open to learning new skills, even if they don’t meet every qualification for a specific role. 

RCC “Be careful what you post on social media because it will follow you.” — Joe Daloisio, Railroad Construction Co. Inc.

“Sometimes people will read a job description and worry they’re not 100% qualified,” he said. “But I tell people, if it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s worth taking a shot.” 

Candidates who meet only some of the desired qualifications but demonstrate key “soft skills” can be a good fit for a specific role, Tabibi added. 

“Don’t sell yourself short,” she said.  

Not selling oneself short is key when thinking about one’s prior work experience, the panelists said.

“It’s your experience. Make it yours,” said Tabibi. “You may or may not have rail experience specifically for the role, but what is your passion? That’s what we’re looking for. If you are passionate about the role responsibilities and outcome, that says a lot in today’s market. … At Trinity, we look at all applicants and what they can bring to a specific role or a different role altogether.” 

At Railroad Construction, Daloisio seeks candidates who have good communication skills and the ability to work with others. 

“We are looking for team players, someone who wants to be here,” he said. “On your cover letter, put a statement on there about your experience that will catch the attention of the person doing the hiring. If you don’t have the exact skills to fit the position, you may have [skills or experience] that may jump out at the person making hiring decisions.” 

Bruhnke asked the panelists to explain how someone can get hired in railroading if all their prior work experience is in a different sector.  

“People do best when they think about the skills and knowledge that they’ve accumulated over an entire body of work, and how those skills can be deployed in this new job,” said UP’s Whited. “When being interviewed or writing a cover letter, think about how you can connect the skills and abilities that you’ve worked so hard to accumulate and how they connect to the job you’re applying for. People will find that story compelling.” 

Today’s labor shortage presents a great opportunity for job-seekers who are open to changing sectors, said TrinityRail’s Tabibi. Employers are now more open to considering “the big picture” of a job candidate’s transferable skills, she said. 

“When candidates reach out to me and say they really want to be part of Trinity, I love that. Our hiring managers love that.”
— Farah Tabibi, TrinityRail

Tabibi also advised applicants to “court” an employer they’re interested in working for. 

“There is strength in being intentional with your [job-search] targets,” she said. “Make the company feel important. When candidates reach out to me and say they really want to be part of Trinity, I love that. Our hiring managers love that.” 

A clean reputation: Priceless  

Bruhnke’s question on how much a job candidate’s “reputation” weighs in hiring decisions prompted the panelists to advise job-seekers to be careful about what they post on social media. 

“Railroads stem across the country, but it’s a small industry,” said Daloisio. “That reputation you made for yourself stays with you and follows you.” 

Both Daloisio and Whited cautioned job-seekers to keep their reputations in mind when they use social media.  

“Companies can check everything, personal or work related,” said Daloisio. “Be careful what you post on social media because it will follow you. In the construction industry, we pull candidates from many places — joint venture partners, clients, other construction companies. The reputation of the company they come from is important; the resume and application are important. And that social media presence is so important right now.” 

Even the people a job candidate associates with on social media can be a factor, Whited suggested. 

“Think about who you want to trust in your network,” she said. “You want to network with people on LinkedIn who know you and the quality of your work and less about the social aspects of your life.” 

Relationship building beyond social media is crucial to getting a job, moving up the career ladder or transitioning to a new industry, the panelists agreed. 

“You want to foster your network and stay connected with people with whom you’ve created a trusting relationship, who know the quality of your work and that you’re sincere and genuine,” said Whited. “Relationships and how you treat people matters because that will follow you.” 

Added Tabibi: “I love to say that you may never have to apply for a job again if you have a strong network and a strong reputation with people. We see that happen time and time again, where people say, ‘I never have to apply for a job’ because the jobs come to them. That’s a great problem to have.” 

Good at IT? Send us your resume 

Job candidates with an interest in information technology (IT) can find a place in the rail industry, the panelists said.  

“Everything is leaning toward digitization, data and what we can do with data,” said Tabibi. “We have so many openings in data jobs here at Trinity. I see them everywhere.” 

Those who don’t have the experience but would like to transition to such roles can learn through IT certificate programs, the panelists suggested. 

“There are a lot of really great tech certificate programs and compression coding programs that you can take if you really want to be on the IT track,” said Whited. “After you do that, please send me your resume because we’re always looking for new tech talent. Also, if you want to work in cybersecurity, that is another really important area.” 

Technology is becoming more important in the rail construction world, from computerized tampers to tracking software to global mapping systems, said Daloisio. Anyone with a computer background could find a fit in the rail industry, he added. 

Employment opportunities are available for people at different educational levels: A four-year college degree is not required to land a job in railroading, the panelists emphasized. 

“Union Pacific is actively recruiting high-school graduates to be transportation workers,” said Whited. “We also hire high-school graduates for jobs like crew calling, customer service and train dispatching. … If you are a high-school graduate and complete an associate degree in electrical work or other crafts with additional skill sets, that would be wonderful as well.” 

Daloisio noted he started in the industry “working on the tracks” right out of high school. 

“There are lots of opportunities doing track maintenance labor,” he said. “There are a lot of people who went to work in rail right out of high school and had a long, successful career.”