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— by Jeff Stagl, managing editor
Each year, Union Pacific Railroad's attrition levels typically reach 3,000 to 4,000 workers primarily because of retirements. Every department is impacted by the experienced worker drain, but it's especially problematic in the information technology (IT) group because hardware and software demands continue to mount. There usually are 20 to 30 positions that remain unfilled in the group because UP recruiters can't find enough people with the requisite skills.
That could soon change for the better. In December, UP opened a new information technology center in Austin, Texas, to locate recruiters and IT group leaders closer to the top-tier talent residing in one of the nation's hottest technology hubs. The 11,000-square-foot facility will serve as a software and engineering research and development center for the group, which conducts work in such areas as real-time and predictive analytics, hardware engineering, sensor-based mote technology and train communications. The group also develops and builds proprietary hardware, software and systems.
Austin is home or in close proximity to many colleges and universities that offer "very strong" computer science and electrical engineering programs, such as the University of Texas-Austin, University of Texas-San Antonio, Texas A&M University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University and Trinity University, says UP spokesman Tom Lange.
"We have been evaluating the possibility of a satellite IT office for about two years," he says. "A few years ago, we started sending recruiters to quite a few universities across the U.S. to cultivate relationships with schools and meet potential employees. We also have expanded our internship program to include roughly 70 year-round and 40 summer interns."
The railroad continues to aggressively pursue recruiting efforts within the Texas university systems and found many of the candidates prefer to live and work in Austin, said Lynden Tennison, UP's senior vice president and chief information officer, in a prepared statement.
"Having an office in the heart of Austin will help us bring exciting new opportunities to the exceptional talent being developed in Texas," he said.
Considered an industry leader in IT and technology innovation, UP operates more miles of railroad in Texas — about 6,300 — than in any other state, and employs more people in Texas than any other state except Nebraska, where the company maintains its Omaha headquarters, according to the Class I. UP operates one of the world's largest privately owned telecommunications networks, which supports 10,000 customers and the railroad's 32,000-mile network in 23 states.
The new open-concept IT center, which will support more than 40 programmers and engineers, features a lab, audio/visual training room and "collaboration room," where programmers and engineers can work together on projects.
For example, professionals at the center will work on predictive analytics that help the railroad operate its trains — which in any 24-hour window typically total about 3,300 — more safely and reliably, says Lange.
Opening the center in northwest Austin is "a proof-of-concept move on our part," he says, adding that the facility is UP's first true satellite IT center.
"We will evaluate its success over the next 12 to 18 months and determine whether to expand our Austin presence, add other satellite locations or pull the work back into our Omaha headquarters," says Lange.