The railway industry is facing a serious worker shortage, thanks to an unprecedented rise in freight loads.
That's good news for veterans on the job hunt. And even better, while many railway companies have established veteran hiring programs, the competition to hire veterans has also increased, pushing companies to offer substantial starting salaries -- even for those without a college degree.
According to the Association of American Railroads, the average U.S. rail employee earned $125,400 per year in total compensation, including benefits; that's 29% higher than the national average.
That's a lot of green for veterans looking to transition to a civilian career without a college degree in their back pocket.
If a railway gig sounds good to you, here are five railway companies with robust veteran hiring programs:
When it comes to moving people, Amtrak knows a thing or two. According to its website, customers took 31.7 million trips in 2018.
In 1970, Congress took over privately held intercity rail services due mostly to their financial collapse. Amtrak, headquartered in Washington, D.C., employs more than 20,000 employees and was one of the first railways to offer a veteran hiring program. In addition, for four consecutive years, Forbes magazine cited Amtrak as one of "America's Best Employers."
Amtrak takes veteran hiring seriously. It has partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes, the Wounded Warrior Project, RecruitMilitary and Army PaYS (Partnership for Your Success) and can be found at many veteran jobs fairs around the country.
To find out more, visit Amtrak's veteran hiring website.
BNSF Railway's commitment to hiring veterans is evident in the growing number of veterans it hires. According to its website, one of every five BNSF employees is a veteran. The company currently employs 7,300 military veterans
BNSF, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, operates a network of 32,500 route miles in 28 states and three Canadian provinces and transports mainly agricultural, consumer and industrial products.
"I left the Marine Corps after the Gulf War and began working for BNSF," John Patterson, a retired engineer, said in an email. "They respect military experience. Quite a number of my colleagues were veterans, and overall, it's a great place for veterans to start a civilian career."
Patterson worked his way up the ranks, starting as track maintenance and retiring as an engineer. He said BNSF works hard to promote from within and that it's a solid, dependable career choice for veterans.
According to Payscale.com, BNSF's average starting salary is $81,000 and comes with a substantial benefits package.
Some of the jobs specifically available for veterans include signal apprentice, construction driver, electrician, track maintenance team and many more.
To find out more, visit BNSF's website.
It's one thing to work hard to recruit veterans. It's another thing entirely to retain them. In addition to its targeted veteran recruitment efforts, CSX also has training programs that equip employees to be the best at their chosen job and provide access to professional development and advancement opportunities.
Marine Corps veteran Tony Arigo is one of more than 3,700 military veterans working for CSX who took advantage of these advancement opportunities.
"I have been with CSX for almost seven years, and I have worked my way from a machinist to a general foreman," Arigo said in a CSX employee interview. "CSX was my first career choice out of the military, and it very well may be my last."
CSX Corp., headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, operates 21,000 route miles of track in 23 states and in Canada.
To find out more, visit CSX's website.
4. Norfolk Southern
Founded in 1827, Norfolk Southern has a long history of hiring and supporting veterans dating back to the Civil War.
About 4,000 Norfolk Southern employees are veterans, and the company's commitment extends to those serving reserve duty. According to its website, if NS-employed veterans are called to active duty through the reserves or National Guard, it will provide income supplements and continue existing health and life insurance coverage, offering benefits beyond those required by law.
Norfolk Southern produced a brochure that translates military occupations to railroad career paths. This handy reference allows veterans to identify, target and search for potential job openings on its website.
According to the website, "Norfolk Southern operates 19,500 route miles in 22 states and D.C.; supports international trade with service to every major Eastern seaport, 10 river ports and nine lake ports; and operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East."
To find out more, visit Norfolk Southern's website.
5. Union Pacific
As one of the oldest railway lines in the nation, you might recognize Union Pacific's name right away. It was founded in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act.
In addition to its military recruiting efforts, Union Pacific also cultivates veteran mentorship and community through its unique UP VETS, veteran employee resource group. According to its website, UP VETS was created "to help attract, develop and retain veterans within our company … [and] connect with other employees throughout the system as they transition into the company and begin to navigate their careers."
Jesse Miller, an Army reservist and agricultural business manager, said he appreciates Union Pacific's dedication to active-duty troops and veterans.
"Coming to work for Union Pacific was important to me, because their commitment to veterans and active-duty military is clear," Miller said in a Union Pacific employee interview. "Whenever I have reserve commitments during the week, Union Pacific has always worked with me in adapting my schedule."
For more information, visit Union Pacific's website.
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