While technology is driving the new era of railroading, the need for a rock-solid foundation is paramount. The foundation of the railroad industry is training. Just like the Roman Pantheon, an ancient building with a solid foundation and large round pillars that support the stone roof, the pillars of empowerment, compensation and technology must hold up the “roof” of railroading goals that support the desired outcomes like car-count, safety and velocity.
If the roof is to remain in place for years to come, then the foundation must be solid. That foundation is training, through the three pillars of empowerment, compensation and technology.
Empowerment is the courage to know and do the right thing based on your classroom and on-the-job training. This pillar is necessary because without it, you may be tempted to put in its place a cheap replacement that resembles it but doesn’t support what it needs to. It is ultimately for show. However, real empowerment is the basis for strong decision-making, and is the real thing.
Compensation is the hopes and dreams you may have for yourself and your family. It is justification for the time we spend apart from them. If this pillar is weak or if compensation is insufficient, you might not feel obligated to do your job to the best of your ability, and the other pillars would buckle under the added stress. This pillar undergirds your commitment to the job and task at hand. For an employer, an investment in employees builds a stable workforce.
Technology bears just as much weight as the empowerment and compensation pillars, and supports the desired, overarching outcomes. This pillar helps you innovate, reduce resource waste and ensure the safety of keeping your “roof”—the desired outcomes—in place. Training again can help to meet this obligation by learning new systems and technologies as they are introduced, to remain on that cutting edge.
What keeps these three pillars standing and enable us to meet our goals? How do they not crumble to the earth when things don’t go as expected, the industry cycles up and down, or the job becomes challenging? It is the foundation of training that keeps the three pillars standing.
No matter how strong these three pillars might be, if you don’t have an adequate foundation of training, whether it is on-the-job, professional growth or understanding advancements in new technology and rules, it would be impossible to know how to handle the variety of situations and challenges that come up and how to weather the industry and job storms over time.
Training is the foundation of any successful railroad and any successful railroad career. As a railroader, I have had many training experiences in a classroom (both as a student and now as an instructor), on the job, or through teaching classes. I can say, without a doubt, that not all training is the same.
If you want to reach your “goal” in railroading, your training foundation must start with quality materials, a great learning environment, and the work effort put in to build that foundation.
Can you imagine building a foundation for the ancient Roman Pantheon out of wood? That would never have worked. The same applies to building the training foundation for railroading. If you can’t understand the materials—or they don’t work well and flow together—then you ultimately are building your Pantheon (railroading goals/career) on a wood foundation.
Your training environment is also key. Choosing a solid training environment that is reputable and proven is important to your success. You need to choose a location and atmosphere that encourages exploration and questions. Also, preparing yourself for that learning is a must. Be prepared to be a good student, listen well and ask questions for clarification.
Finally, the work and effort you’re willing to put into it can’t be overlooked. The support team handling your training should make sure you have the latest training materials and the right environment for learning. Your training should challenge you to reach that next level and work toward that next “goal.” Can you imagine going through training where you were given the best material in the perfect environment, but weren’t required to put in the work?
Jeffery Dudley is a non-credit instructor at the National Academy of Railroad Sciences at the Johnson County Community College Continuing Education Department, Overland Park, Kan., a partnership of JCCC and BNSF. Dudley teaches railroad classes both on-campus and at client sites. He began his railroad career in 1999, at the age of 19, first working as a locomotive machinist, next taking a transportation position with the BNSF , and most recently working as a contractor providing On-Track Safety for Non-Railroad Projects on BNSF and Union Pacific. Dudley’s career has spanned many areas of the rail industry, but his passion is safety. This experience is what fuels him in the classroom, and his enthusiasm is tangible to students.“ NARS is a place that can provide all three keys to great foundational training,” he says. “Established in 1988, NARS offers training to those seeking a job in the railroad industry. Learn in laboratory conditions and simulated situations that duplicate on-the-job requirements. JCCC’s training facility spans 130,000 square feet of office, classroom, laboratory and multimedia studio space. You’ll learn from former railroad conductors and past railroad employees who have met and exceeded industry and Higher Learning Commission standards. JCCC offers credit courses for those entering the railroad workforce as well as continuing education for those experienced employees and contractors working in the industry.”