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October 2014

Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Talent retention a topic at September rail shows

— by Pat Foran, editor

In rail country, the trade-show circuit affords an opportunity to compare notes with colleagues and customers, even competitors. For me, show season is vitality-check time. To what extent do railroaders believe rail is a growth industry? How are they keeping pace? How are they preparing for what's next?

The changing of the rail guard has been a topic of industry conversation for a while now. But the dialogue at the rail events I attended last month was a bit more focused, a bit more intense. "Talent" — as in finding it, tapping it, retaining it — was the word that, for me, connected this year's show dots.

On Sept. 14, we hosted our first Rising Stars dinner in Chicago. A celebration of rail professionals under the age of 40 who are making a difference in the industry, the dinner was held in conjunction with the American Association of Railroad Superintendents' (AARS) Annual Meeting. It was great spending time with the 2014 honorees. An obvious takeaway: There are a lot of talented people in this industry, and it will need more Stars, as speakers at the AARS meeting sessions also suggested. In particular, it'll be a challenge to find and retain train and engine (T&E) service talent, said Jason Kuehn, vice president of Oliver Wyman's rail practice. "It's the lifestyle," he said during his Sept. 15 presentation, referring to the long hours, potentially long stretches away from home, etc.

The lifestyle issue isn't limited to the T&E realm. Managers with recruiting responsibilities shared similar concerns at the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association's Annual Conference and Exposition, held Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in Chicago. A number of them asked if I thought the crowd seemed younger this year, and if that meant the industry was getting better at recruiting new talent. (It did seem a bit younger, and yes, perhaps the industry is getting better.) Others shared their person-power frustrations: Recruiting talent has been a challenge; retaining it, even more challenging.

The retention deficit talk made me think of all that talent at our Rising Stars dinner two weeks before. The fresh perspectives. The vitality. It also reminded me that this isn't just a rail issue; we all need to do a better job of tapping the Stars in our respective spheres. These new-breed leaders have some things to teach us.

Why does your young talent see a future in this thing called "rail," and why are they sticking with you? What's their take on lifestyle issues?

If you've got a good talent retention story, share it with us. Perhaps we'll be able to share it with the rest of the class.


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