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Transit industries: former troops are good fits

Sep. 4, 2012 - 11:24AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 4, 2012 - 11:24AM  |  
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Will your military experience get you into this growing career field? Several of the biggest employers in the industry offer online tools to help veterans translate their experience:
* Ryder
* Norfolk Southern


In the transportation world, talk tends to center on truck drivers and mechanics. Certainly these make up a vast majority of available jobs, but look for a range of other careers available as well, including:
* Air traffic controllers
* Airline and commercial pilots
* Bus drivers
* Delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers
* Flight attendants
* Hand laborers and material movers
* Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
* Material moving machine operators
* Railroad conductors and yardmasters
* Subway and streetcar operators
* Taxi drivers and chauffeurs
* Train engineers and operators
* Water transportation occupations
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Food. Clothes. Cars. Toaster ovens. What do they all have in common? Transportation. Whether by ship, truck or rail, every major component of our economy travels. With so much stuff on the go, job opportunities abound.

The American Trucking Association predicts revenue for the industry could rise nearly 66 percent and tonnage could increase 24 percent by 2022. On America's railroads, meanwhile, job growth will come from high turnover: The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board predicts that 67,000 rail employees soon will be eligible for retirement.

That's a 30 percent turnover in the workforce.

Leading transportation players have shown a dedication to hiring from among the ranks of former troops, making this industry a promising avenue for those seeking new careers out of uniform.

UPS alone counts 25,000 veterans among its 408,000 domestic and international employees, including 7,400 hired just last year.

"We are somewhat military-minded in our cultural perspective," said Matt Lavery, UPS' director of talent acquisition. "We promote from within, just like in the military. We encourage diversity. Promotion is based on merit, based on who is doing that job well. And our jobs tend to be well-defined, very focused on detail, much like any single job in the military. All that may make it an easier transition."

An inside look at working for four major transportation companies:


As a Coast Guard petty officer second class and boatswain's mate, Jordan Kellett had amassed a range of skills in uniform. As he pondered life after service, he knew he could go in a number of directions. He just wasn't sure which one to pursue.

A chance encounter with his local UPS driver put him on course. Here was a hot company in a growing industry, he was told. After six years in service, he went to work last June in Atlanta for UPS, doing work that matches up nicely with his military experience.

As a logistics specialist on UPS' government operations freight forwarding team, Kellett performs a range of logistics tasks. "In any military setting, there is a real strong need for precise results inside a dynamic, fast-paced environment. All of that transfers over to the transportation industry," he said.

"When you think about the military, it seems like every aspect is intrinsically linked to transportation. In the Coast Guard, when we respond to a search-and-rescue case, we are immediately thinking about time and distance and what we need to bring. That is inherently transferable to the transport industry."

Working on UPS' government side is especially rewarding, since it keeps Kellett plugged into the military world.

"It's great knowing we can bring the parts that are needed so that the military can succeed in its mission every day," he said.

Norfolk Southern Corp.

When former service members join Norfolk Southern, they typically enter a 12-month training program, during which they are introduced to the rail industry and trained in specific roles, such as transportation, mechanical expert or engineering supervisor.

"We're looking for those who had leadership experience within the military. If they've been in for five to eight years and they have experience with teams and leadership roles, those are the ones who are most suited for our program," said Dan MacKay, Norfolk Southern's manager of professional recruiting. This applies to both officer and enlisted personnel, he added.

The rail line employs 30,000 people, of whom 15 percent are veterans. As in the military, there is a general sense of job stability: The company has been around for 180 years.

Also like the military, railroad work asks employees to go beyond the usual job descriptions. "This is a nonstandard work environment, one that offers different challenges every day. That is something we find veterans are looking for, something that is not the same day in and day out," MacKay said.


When Ryder executives heard that the military planned to draw down, they moved quickly to make themselves visible to the rush of veteran talent soon to hit the streets.

"The first thing we did was to ally ourselves with Hire Our Heroes," said Kirk Imhof, Ryder's group director of staffing. An initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the program ties together employees and local chambers of commerce to create hundreds of military-specific job fairs nationwide.

Ryder has been training its recruiters to translate military skills into civilian job descriptions. Managers have been trained to better interview military candidates, uncovering skills that may not show up on a conventional résumé. A 26-person task force focuses on military hiring.

Eight percent of Ryder's workforce is made up of veterans. In 2011, the company hired more than 600 employees with veteran status. So far this year, 13 percent of external hires have been veterans, including 20 percent of professional drivers.

"The military has trained people not just to come out with some good functional skills, but to be leaders," Imhof said. "We at Ryder hire leaders."

BNSF Railway

At BNSF, veterans are a natural cultural fit, said John Wesley, manager of military staffing.

"We strongly feel that veterans possess a lot of the same traits and values that we have here at BNSF Railway, things like safety mindedness, a dedication to working in a fast-paced, dynamic environment," Wesley said. "We are a very rules-based company; we have policies and procedures for everything we do, and that goes hand in hand with how the military operates."

BNSF taps that talent pool through a dedicated military recruiting program. Recruiters work through 400 transition offices in every branch of the military. Since 2005, the company has hired more than 5,000 veterans. This year, roughly 22 percent of new hires have been veterans.

"We're still not satisfied. Each year, we set net goals and we try to get 25 percent," Wesley said.

Some jobs translate easily: An Army maintenance specialist may be a diesel mechanic; a Navy Seabee might be a pipefitter or an electrician.

And where there isn't a direct fit, BNSF will try to make one. "Maybe somebody was a tank operator. There is no tank here, but we will offer them the chance to drive a train, and we will train them as a conductor trainee," Wesley said. "We want to provide service members opportunities across the board, things they have not even thought of."

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