2021 OUTLOOK: The Second Great Railroad Revolution?

Written by Railway Age Staff
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RAILWAY AGE, DECEMBER 2020 ISSUE COVER STORY: As one of the most difficult years in world history draws to a conclusion that at times felt like it would never come, the North American railway industry—battered and bruised but refusing to go down—looks to a new year with cautious optimism, and most important—hope.

How do we define hope? It has been described as “an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.” As a verb, among its definitions are “to expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.” Noted Professor of Psychology Barbara Fredrickson said that hope “comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. … With great need comes an unusually wide range of ideas, as well as such positive emotions as happiness and joy, courage and empowerment, drawn from four different areas of one’s self: a cognitive, psychological, social, or physical perspective.” Hopeful people are “like the little engine that could, because they keep telling themselves, ‘I think I can, I think I can.’ Such positive thinking bears fruit when based on a realistic sense of optimism, not on a naive ‘false hope.’”

Psychologist Charles R. Snyder linked hope to “the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal,” and said the difference between hope and optimism was that the former “included practical pathways to an improved future.”

These definitions form the foundation of the railroad industry.

For this edition of our annual Outlook for the coming year, we’ve reached deep into our talent pool, drawing from Railway Age’s staff and contributing editors, from our headquarters in Lower Manhattan to Capitol Hill to Wall Street. We’ve topped off our offering with the perspective of an industry specialist who deals every day with finding and empowering the talent that is the heart and soul of this two-century-old industry we call “railroading.”

I’ve been at this for nearly 30 years, and feel humbled and privileged for the opportunity to present to you, our readers, the collective thoughts of some of the industry’s most experienced minds. I anticipate a brighter future and the end to a devastating pandemic. With a profound sense of relief, I look to a new Administration in Washington with an opportunity to set an example, reminding us that the bitter divisiveness, the refusal to deal with reality and the inability to speak the truth, all of which have permeated the national psyche, crippled our sense of national unity and provided a profoundly disturbing example of “The Illusion of Separation,” do not represent who we are as a nation.

You, our readers, represent North America’s railroad industry, which during this past year has drawn on deep reserves of strength, resilience, determination, experience, skill, concern, unity, compassion—and hope.

—William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

Washington Outlook

Donald M. Itzkoff

Railroads, public transportation and suppliers are zooming into an unfolding new Washington environment. President-elect Joe Biden will bring to the Oval Office a commitment to infrastructure investment, green policies, and a famous personal affection for rail from his daily Amtrak commute as a U.S. Senator to be home with his family. The Nov. 3 election also underscored the lack of Biden coattails and the country’s deep partisan divide. Democrats only narrowly retained a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and party control of the U.S. Senate depends on the outcome of two special Senate runoff races Jan. 5 in Georgia. For rail and transit stakeholders looking to shape federal policy and spending, some Beltway signals are shrouded.

Sustainable Infrastructure and a Clean Energy Future?

During the campaign, Biden promised to spark “the second great railroad revolution” and ensure that “America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world—for both passengers and freight.” These commitments are part of a pledged $2 trillion investment in infrastructure, transit, power, electric vehicles and charging stations, green buildings, and more. The goal is to “put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.” Plans include working with “Amtrak and private freight rail companies to further electrify the rail system,” while a new Advanced Research Projects Agency on Climate (ARPA-C) would invest in “game-changing” technologies such as energy storage and renewable hydrogen.

This infrastructure investment and climate agenda—not the Green New Deal but far-reaching and aggressive—may collide with a Senate wall. The election left Democrats with 48 Senate seats, Republicans with 50 seats, and two Senate races in Georgia forced into a runoff because no candidate received 50% of the vote. Democrats must win both of these special Georgia January races to achieve 50 seats and effective Senate control with Vice President -elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaker. If Republicans win either Georgia Senate runoff, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will remain Senate Majority Leader when President-elect Biden takes office.

“Conventional” political analysis posits high hurdles to Democrats achieving Senate control. Even if Democrats win both Georgia Senate seats, a thin 50+1 majority falls short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Speculation before the election suggested the potential to leverage the tax-driven reconciliation process requiring only a Senate majority vote to pass infrastructure, green and other initiatives, or doing away entirely with the filibuster, but such projections are moot if the Senate continues under Republican leadership.

With divided government a real prospect, Biden and his Administration will have to work with Senate Majority Leader McConnell on all that needs Congressional approval, from nominations to legislation and spending. Though McConnell vowed a decade ago to oppose President Barack Obama’s agenda, Biden’s 36 years in the Senate enabled him as Vice President to reach bipartisan deals with McConnell that averted the worst financial cliffs of the Great Recession. Former senior McConnell aide Rohit Kumar told The Washington Post that Biden and McConnell “genuinely like each other. There was a mutual understanding there.” McConnell said in 2016, “There is a reason ‘Get Joe on the phone’ is shorthand for ‘time to get serious’ in my office.”

Yet, forging bipartisan agreement on anything near the transportation investment that the Biden campaign proposed will be a reach. Biden’s sustainable infrastructure proposal would be funded in part by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. A Republican Senate will be disinclined to approve such a rise, and likely equally resistant to more deficit spending on infrastructure beyond COVID-19 economic recovery support. As of this writing, Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remained at odds over the size of any COVID-19 relief legislation during the Congressional lame-duck session. Beyond the pandemic’s loss and pain, even within the transport sector, a stark modal competition for relief funding has pitted airlines and airports against Amtrak and public transit agencies, to cite one fissure. The nation’s largest transit agency, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, projects budget deficits brought on by the pandemic exceeding $16 billion through 2024, and other passenger rail and transit operators across the country face their own daunting shortfalls. Rail and transit suppliers, too, see declines as customers cut or defer capex.

How then, in the face of pandemic-driven ridership collapse and deficits, to marshal political support and funding for infrastructure investments such as the Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey and other “shovel-worthy” and “shovel-ready” projects? Following the election, Biden campaign advisor and former U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari told state DOT leaders to anticipate a “high/low mix” infrastructure program including “transformative, multi-year expensive projects at the high end” enabling “long-term transformative benefits.” Will the next Congress agree and boost infrastructure spending, with or even without “pay-for” offsets?

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a bicycle-riding staunch transportation advocate and a dean of his party’s progressive wing, presented the bullish case. “I’ve been like Charlie and the football in the past. I’m not going to try to sound Pollyanna-ish here. I know there’s a lot of hard work,” Blumenauer told Politico. But with the President-elect’s commitment, “I see pieces that can align. The forces are aligned in a way that we haven’t seen in 10 years.” Blumenauer is “buoyantly optimistic,” as Politico described it, and transportation advocates will have to drive constituent pressure for bipartisan agreement over opposing ideological and political interests. With President-elect Biden’s campaign having placed infrastructure on the agenda, the next Congress will begin debate on the foundation of this year’s greener House-passed surface transportation reauthorization, H.R. 2 (which includes provisions railroads oppose), and the more conventional Senate bipartisan bill, S. 2302. Tens of billions of dollars for rail and public transportation ride on what legislators—and especially Senate Majority Leader McConnell—decide.

Accelerating Action

The Biden Administration plans sweeping policy shifts through executive order and regulatory process, distinct from Congressional involvement. To achieve deep cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, action on climate change will be central to agency missions across government. Biden campaign Policy Director Stef Feldman drew the direct link to infrastructure in an interview with The Washington Post. “From the very beginning, when he [Biden] talked about infrastructure, he talked about making sure that it built in climate change, that we are making our communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.”

The Biden transition team is leveraging recommendations in the Climate 21 Project, a 300-page blueprint (https://climate21.org/) for rapid Executive Branch mobilization. Plans encompass intra-departmental climate councils including at USDOT and a “climate in all policies” approach. The report states that electrification of vehicles—“including passenger vehicles, local freight delivery vehicles, buses, port equipment, and more … presents a major opportunity for emissions reduction and could be a cornerstone of efforts to reinvigorate the U.S. economy.”

While this report doesn’t call to electrify freight rail, the concept may gain currency. Freight railroads may also potentially have to address the impact of billions of new federal funds flowing to electrified competing modes. Rail makes up a fraction of total GHG transport emissions, but regulatory discussions could still include GHG mandates on rail. GHG impact review may even extend to trucking automation. The Climate 21 authors urge that the “new Administration should consider climate change implications … when developing updated guidance or regulations related to automated and connected vehicles.” Will this mean that regulatory approval of truck platooning technologies will include a GHG assessment, and thus more swiftly encourage competitor automation?

Other regulatory pressures in a Biden Administration informed through fuller labor perspectives will frame USDOT’s primary safety focus. Beltway trade press has already seized on possible reexamination of federal requirements on train crew size. Such a rule would thwart the benefits of accelerating new automation technology and expanding on the Positive Train Control backbone that cost billions in private freight railroad investment and taxpayer funds for Amtrak and commuter railroads, and is now on the brink of the Dec. 31, 2020 deadline for nationwide deployment. Next-generation PTC 2.0 presents much promise, but aviation’s oversight failure to understand the Boeing MCAS programming that caused the 737 MAX tragedies may influence regulation of vital software across all modes. At the same time, advanced sensors and Big Data analytics offer the prospect of evolved performance-based rules utilizing asset health to predict safety performance, enabling more-streamlined and equally effective rail safety inspection regimens.

Changing views on economic regulatory oversight based on leadership shifts at the Surface Transportation Board may portend regulatory trials for railroads. For the rail supply industry, Buy America emphasis will escalate, though how best to address unfair state-owned Chinese competition in U.S. rail and transit markets remains a question. From climate to safety, and across labor, health and other matters, regulatory advocacy and engagement will be at least as important as influencing visible legislation. Given the scale of the incoming Biden Administration’s policy agenda, rail and transit interests will want to elevate attention to shaping the contours of impending regulatory terrain affecting transport network safety, viability, jobs and lives.

New Approaches and Leaders

With every incoming Presidential Administration, Washington consumes itself with who will run the federal government, down to the most junior political Schedule C staffers. This virtually turbocharged parlor conversation may distract and exhaust, but the leadership and management skills of the incoming Secretary of Transportation, USDOT modal teams and other White House and government appointees whose portfolios include mobility and climate change will determine what happens to agency visions and execution.

While the rail community awaits appointments for USDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration, outgoing FRA Administrator Ron Batory’s reorganization of the agency’s safety oversight structure deserves staying power. FRA’s updated organization realigns the former regions with a footprint tailored to current Class I, short line and passenger rail networks. This restructuring also ties FRA field inspectors more directly to their Operating Practices, Motive Power and Equipment, and other discipline headquarters chiefs to end past conflicting regional interpretations that sometimes affected the same railroad. Batory also named new executives to the most senior FRA Office of Safety career civil service positions, providing the foundation and expertise for the next tests.

A new generation of leaders has similarly assumed command within the past several years of core surface transportation trade associations, including the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, the American Public Transportation Association, the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association, the Railway Supply Institute, the OneRail Coalition, and others. This talent has arrived at an opportune time, and well-positions railroads, public transportation operators and suppliers to achieve meaningful solutions in a dynamic policy environment fast on the way.

Contributing Editor Don Itzkoff is a former Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator. He is the founder of Transport Strategies LLC in Washington, D.C.

Wall Street Outlook

Jason Seidl

Everyone is looking forward to putting 2020 in the proverbial rearview mirror, and the railroad industry is no different. The terrible impact on lives lost and the social impact of distancing oneself from friends and family aside, railroad finances took a hit. Indeed, Class I earnings were down on average roughly 8% through the first nine months of the year, troughing out in second-quarter 2020 with heavy double-digit declines. Overall volumes remained down nearly 9% on the year. The outlook for 4Q20 and 2021, however, remains far better in our view.

Not only have volumes started recovering, but intermodal volumes have snapped back with a vengeance the likes of which would make Tony Stark proud. Third-quarter intermodal volumes spiked, and the strength has continued into 4Q20. Thus far in 4Q20, overall North American rail volumes are up 1.8% with agricultural products and intermodal leading the way with 15.4% and 10% jumps, respectively. This has helped offset continued declines in coal (down nearly 20%) and chemicals (down nearly 10%).

The rebound in demand has been felt all over the supply chain, but nowhere was it more prominent than out West. Indeed, the Port of Los Angeles announced that October volumes were the highest monthly levels in its 114-year history. What is behind this surge in volume, you might ask? Most of our industry contacts tell us it is a combination of inventory restocking, e-commerce growth, increasing truckload pricing and consumers having more money to spend due to a lack of travel. The West Coast has seen an outsized benefit due to the speed to market some retailers need in the restocking process. Based on what we are hearing from those in the industry, we believe that volume growth should continue well into next year.

The recent volume growth is encouraging for sure, but it has brought operational strain to the rail network. Railroads have seen congestion from this surge in business, and it has reverberated throughout the supply chain. Many intermodal gates are turning down trucks that are coming in with containers, and certain locations (especially inland) lack equipment. Ports, railroads, drayage operators and shipping lines are working together to try to alleviate pinch points.

The Port of LA has focused on using technology to improve operations and recently launched a free platform to assist the trucking community in returning empty containers. Dubbed the Return Signal, this new platform is hoped to be part of a multi-technology solution (other port technology platforms include Port Optimizer and The Signal) that should help alleviate the current congestion and get the port back to a state of greater fluidity. This along with numerous efforts across the intermodal supply chain should help, but we do not expect a quick fix, given that hardly anyone seemed to have been ready for this type of demand. Unfortunately, shippers and intermodal intermediaries are the ones who will have to suffer the most in the interim with delays and increased costs to their supply chains.

The bulk of the pricing for the intermodal product is normally settled prior to the traditional fall peak season. Hence, given the recent strong run-up in TL pricing, it may take some time for the rails to pull their pricing lever fully. That said, the rails may make some upward pricing adjustments as early as December, according to our contacts within the industry. Given how far truck pricing has run, we envision high single-digit pricing for intermodal in 2021.

We continue to view the rail group in a positive light for investors. Not only should they benefit from a volume recovery, but operational fluidity should improve as we get into 2021. An intermodal pricing recovery is expected to bolster the back half of 2021, which should help offset more difficult year-over-year volume comparisons. 2021 should also see an uptick in share repurchases as companies feel more comfortable that we are on our way out of the pandemic, given the recent success with three COVID-19 vaccines. In sum, 2021 should look far better than 2020, thank goodness.

Wall Street Contributing Editor Jason Seidl is Managing Director of Cowen and Company.

Supplier Outlook

Nicole Brewin

If there ever was a question about the essential role that America’s freight rail industry plays in Americans’ everyday lives, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted it. In the pandemic’s earliest weeks and months, maintaining robust supply chains on everything from medical gear to agricultural products became the difference between life and death.

Now, as we face an ongoing recovery from the pandemic itself and the related economic fallout, a bipartisan call to invest in our nation’s critical infrastructure is growing louder. That’s exactly the right call.

Fortunately, a group of bipartisan members of Congress has already introduced a forward-looking bill that prioritizes sound investment in our nation’s freight railcar manufacturing industry.

The Freight Rail Assistance and Investment to Launch Coronavirus-era Activity and Recovery (Freight RAILCAR) Act, H.R. 8082, addresses everything from industry sustainability and environmental efficiency to bolstering U.S. manufacturing and saving railway supply jobs—all 65,000 of them.

H.R. 8082 incentivizes investment in freight railcars that use advanced technologies, materials and designs. It encourages the recycling of steel from scrapped railcars into new steel. And it provides these incentives at a time when our nation’s freight railcar owners may sooner hold back investments in the hope of riding out the current economic storm.

The credits within the bill will incentivize new freight railcar orders and will in turn help stabilize the freight railcar manufacturing industry through the pandemic and beyond. By modernizing the North American freight railcar fleet, there would be increased railcar capacity, reduced shipping costs and more long-haul freight moved by rail, reducing greenhouse gases to the tune of 23.3 million tons of CO2 saved over 20 years. This bill offers the kind of incentives that will ensure America’s freight railcar industry builds on the future rather than the past and is greener and more efficient as a result.

Introduced this summer by U.S. Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.-10) and Darin LaHood (R-Ill.-18) and joined by four original co-sponsors from the House Ways and Means Committee and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Freight RAILCAR Act is the legislation needed now to reinvigorate the industry. It’s bolstered by backing from several dozen lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The Freight RAILCAR Act also supports more than $6.5 billion in GDP and tens of thousands of family wage jobs in all 50 states—including Arkansas, Oregon, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas, where some of the nation’s leading freight railcar manufacturers and suppliers are struggling to maintain workforces that have already been reduced by as much as 50%. The bill also invests in our nation’s steel manufacturers, foundries and factory equipment suppliers. It also ensures that any foreign, state-owned railcar builders—including CRRC, which has deep ties to China’s military—could not take advantage of this tax-credit program. We’ve seen how China is trying to use a COVID-19-weakened U.S. and global economy to increase an already alarming market share in key industries like railcar manufacturing. That’s why H.R. 8082 safeguards where new cars are refurbished or built, ensuring the jobs modernizing the North American freight railcar fleet remain at North American facilities that are not state-owned.

Adding to the collective support behind the Freight RAILCAR Act are groups that represent more than 1,400 manufacturing and railway supply companies in the U.S.

In a recent letter to Reps. Schneider and LaHood, these domestic freight rail manufacturing and supply groups sent a clear message: The Freight RAILCAR Act is the right bill at the right time. It moves America forward on jobs, sustainability, efficiency and security in our nation’s freight railcar industry. Without the Freight RAILCAR Act, there’s just too much to lose.

Nicole Brewin is Vice President of Government and Public Affairs at the Railway Supply Institute.

Visionary Leadership

Merritt Canfield

If you have heard me speak at an industry conference during the past few years, the focus was “The Talent War,” the lowest unemployment in 50 years affecting businesses of all sizes and recruiting, hiring and retaining talent in a competitive market. As we look toward 2021, organizations of all sizes now must ensure they have the right strategic, visionary leaders for three critical stages of today’s business environment: pandemic recovery planning, recovery and growth. What has not changed is that there is still a high degree of competition, a talent war for these high-impact leaders and impact players who can guide organizations through these stages.

Strategic, visionary leaders are looking at how their organizations can emerge more robust. They look at the business before the pandemic, what their workforce has faced in 2020, and the focus on short- and long-term planning in every area of their organization. These leaders must lead with empathy, kindness, courage and charisma, not knowing all of what their workforce has personally faced this year but appreciating that there have been significant struggles. More than ever, listening is vital, given the shift to a remote employee workforce or a combination “hybrid” approach with an onsite and remote workforce. These leaders are challenged to build efficiency and effectiveness in what a new normal will look like for their organization, to focus on workforce safety in even more ways than the industry has faced, and to evaluate what is now working and what will work in the future, while motivating, driving change, communicating and being an inspiration to every level in the organization.

In October, we all watched as Microsoft, followed by many other tech companies, announced permanently allowing their workforce to work from home. This will not be feasible for most in the rail industry. Still, there will have to be a concentration in all of these stages on technologies essential for the current and future workplaces. Transparency will be critical for these leaders, no matter where their workforce will be operating. Adaptability to drive and deliver necessary pivots to keep progressing an organization in all of these stages will be essential.

Strategic, visionary leaders are confident in the impact they have made in organizations throughout their careers. They reflect on who set examples for them, who became their most incredible mentors, and who developed their talent and why. They can undoubtedly state their measurable accomplishments at every point in their careers. They exhibit an exceptional work ethic that defines where they will continue to grow their careers.

Have you ever stopped to think about every strategic, visionary leader you have worked for in your career? In conversations, I often hear these leaders name every leader who mentored, impacted and advanced their careers. Visionary leaders in passenger and freight organizations will be thinking about pulling in new talent beginning their careers and educating them on what the industry offers, with succession planning as an essential part of these stages. Some leaders will still be able to grow their careers faster than in other industries due to retirements that will take place and the industry’s size.

The critical focus on people in an organization will be vital in the next few years. As we know, they are the biggest asset to any organization. For years, many C-suite and executive teams have faced challenges with their internal talent acquisition, recruiting, and hiring of impact players and the exceptionally talented at every level in their organizations. A global study published by McKinsey & Company focused on Fortune 500 executives and found that 82% felt they were not recruiting highly talented people. This must change in 2021 for organizations to compete and progress.

Talent acquisition efforts will be evaluated in all three stages, but the planning stage is a time to assess your processes and make sure that changes in hiring practices are concrete. Having a process in place ensures that a new hire at any level of the organization is educated in onboarding, and understands policies, procedures and expectations. Stop and think about what a new employee goes through day one, week one, month one, year one with a mixture of employees working remotely and onsite. High impact leaders focus on the talent acquisition process and drive an exceptional onboarding experience, keeping in mind the competition for top talent and the high cost to replace talent.

Does your organization provide an exceptional talent acquisition experience? Daily, I listen to candidates talk about their talent acquisition experiences with organizations leading through global challenges. Their stories are not always positive. No matter the size of your organization, high-impact leaders concentrate on people and, ultimately, their experiences from the beginning as a new applicant to a tenured employee. Making the right hire is extremely important. The right hire will help drive innovation, ultimately delivering results and perhaps the competitive advantage needed during these times.

I believe the talent acquisition experience is crucial to an organization’s success. It is every detail that makes a difference in that experience and often where the experience lacks. Several years ago, I worked with a client who hired multiple C-suite executives and director-level leaders. As a partner to them, I stressed that it was incredibly important to go through the candidate experience. I assisted in creating a complete interview process, including the airport, hotel, corporate headquarters interviews, locations where they would be working, nearby restaurants, and more. Each candidate knew every detail from leaving the airport, their plane touching down, to returning to airport and everything in between. The feedback was that no detail was unturned, and many I am still in touch with refer to it as a “fantastic” experience.

Years ago, in the rail industry, I had a client interviewing several candidates at their corporate headquarters. When each candidate arrived, an individual from reception greeted them, providing a great experience until the interview team was ready. These candidates had all flown in, had rented cars and had driven more than an hour from the airport. After they interviewed, each candidate spoke to me about the incredible experience with the individual who greeted them and guided them through their interviews. After all the candidate feedback, I contacted the executive team to let them know the exceptional experience the candidates were receiving and the person responsible for it. Later, the individual got word of all the praise, contacted me to thank me, and was also ultimately promoted. Many years later, I had the pleasure at an industry conference of meeting this charismatic individual whose career had continued to grow within the company.

My point: By providing an incredible candidate experience, you will attract and hire the right talent, start them off with a positive experience, and position them to have a long tenure in your organization. The talent acquisition process will be more cost-effective.

Developing the most robust talent acquisition and onboarding experience with five working generations, four being the majority today, will be a priority and critical to every organization. Impact leaders look closely at managing the generations, their company’s culture, and the critical things that need to happen for ultimate results. For an organization to flourish, these leaders focus on the commonalities being more important than the differences.

As Generation Z has entered the workforce, stop and consider that they have never known a life without devices, making them tech-savvy, fast learners and independent. Many need to work hard to further their compensation since many are faced with high student debt.

Next, millennials have been a big subject since they entered the workforce. They are focused on “new” ideas, social media, different ways to accomplish things, results, and career growth. They might be the best at working remotely and their constant focus on ideas may be strengths for recovery planning and recovery efforts.

Generation X is the smallest set between millennials and baby boomers, but do not forget their contributions. They are creative, shaped by technology, hardworking, independent, flexible, and communicate well, with a strong work ethic. This generation’s independence helps organizations experience less disruption, and their flexibility will help during all stages. The baby boomers did not grow up with technology but have had to learn. They are hardworking and value developing relationships and doing business face-to-face. Recognition is essential to this group. Their ability to mentor and develop other generations is vital for all organizations, given the rail industry is one of the most tenured.

The generations’ similarities are hard work, commitment and communication styles. The passion you find from workforces in the rail industry has always been strong. That passion, combined with these similarities, will be an asset in the next few years. I became an executive recruiter right out of college. I have never seen so much passion as in the rail industry. Finding creative ways to keep that passion strong is the strength of a strategic, visionary leader during these times.

Think about forging an internal group within your organization in which every generation is represented. Walk through how a new applicant is engaged in your organization, recruited, hired, and onboarded, first month, first quarter, first year, and how they gain knowledge to help provide the best experience. This process also allows you to gain invaluable feedback about your organization’s corporate culture and market presence.

An essential fundamental step will be interviewing everyone involved in the hiring process to ensure they are on the same page and providing the same experience. Now is the time for this; it will make a difference in late recovery and growth. The remote interview challenges and the need to still see most of the final candidates in person will not change, but the above will help these leaders and your organization map a robust process. If you choose an external search firm, make sure they are a true partner to your organization, are always providing an exceptional customer and candidate experience, are communicating with your team, are an extension of your business, and advise you in every detail throughout the process and stages.

Leading through challenge starts with talent. Strategic, visionary leaders do not only look at their experience of how they were recruited, hired, onboarded, mentored, and developed and succession-planned, but also look more broadly and closely at the process and experience a new applicant/prospective employee/candidate receives. Creating a unique, positive new employee experience can be a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace. Many organizations have challenges ahead, so it’s important to ensure that the right strategic, visionary leaders are in place. In doing so, these organizations will have a better outlook for 2021, greater ease, stronger morale and clearer vision.

Wishing you a safe and prosperous 2021.

Merritt Canfield is an Executive Search Consultant and Managing Director of 20/20 Foresight Executive Search.