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To advance much farther down its become-a-better-railroad path, Union Pacific Railroad will need more workers. Over the past 10 years, the Class I has lost about half of its well-experienced employees, and attrition continues to eat away at the veteran workforce.
So, the railroad is in hiring mode — big time. This year, UP plans to hire 4,000 workers; in the next five years, the Class I expects to hire about 15,000 in total.
New employees can help UP meet its continuous-improvement and growth objectives because they provide a "fresh set of eyes and experiences," as well as different approaches and problem-solving techniques, says Acting President and CEO Jack Koraleski.
"We need people who always ask, 'why,' when it comes to the way things are done," he says. "We let them have fun with ideas and be open-minded. But they need good training and mentoring so they don't re-learn mistakes."
One way to recruit creative and talented employees is to offer them a chance to work with the latest technologies. UP can recruit top-tier talent by getting rid of a 1970s-era, green-screen mainframe computer system and replacing it with a series of high-tech server farms that younger workers are more comfortable and familiar with, says Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Lynden Tennison. The Class I began to replace its network control system in 2005, and the massive undertaking is slated for completion by 2015, he says.
"Our business processes have changed dramatically and the old system is written in antiquated computer languages," says Tennison.
Once candidates are recruited, retaining them is key. UP must continually get employees to buy into the operational strategy so they
remain engaged in the company, says Executive VP of Operations Lance Fritz. One successful interaction at a time between a supervisor and worker can "turbocharge employee engagement," he says.
"It takes training and coaches, and some patience," Fritz adds.
Making workers feel they're contributing or are valued is important, too. To that end, the mechanical department the past few years has provided a "Solution Center" through which employees can electronically submit suggestions on ways to improve standard work processes. Supervisors are required to follow up on each submittal.
"It's a way to provide an idea or feedback," says Fritz, adding that the engineering and transportation departments might create similar Solution Centers.
— Jeff Stagl