Norfolk Southern has plenty of engineering and IT jobs to fill
Hiring in the engineering arena is expected to be up in 2012. The company also has plans to bring in more co-ops and interns this year
'Some folks may not think of a railroad as a technology company, but it's amazing the amount of technology used today to operate it," says Tom Winter, director of planning and staffing at Norfolk Southern Corp.
Norfolk Southern, one of the nation's largest transportation companies, has plenty of engineering and IT opportunities for both experienced pros and new college grads. Hiring in the engineering arena is expected to be up in 2012: the company plans to bring on 140 to 150 engineers, Winter says. It is also increasing the number of co-ops and interns, "because we want to bring people in and give them the opportunity to learn what we have. As new technology becomes implementable we want folks ready to step in," he says.
The company operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is a major transporter of coal and industrial products. Its Norfolk Southern Railway subsidiary operates about 20,000 route miles in twenty-two states and the District of Columbia. The railway also serves every major container port in the eastern U.S. and provides efficient connections to other rail carriers.
Women applicants are particularly welcome, Winter notes. "We have women engineers and conductors on the trains and women who are supervisors in our mechanical department and in communications and signals."
The company recruits via the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and some HBCUs. "We work with HBCUs in Norfolk, VA and Atlanta, GA," Winter reveals. "We support some of these schools financially and they see us as a preferred employer."
Four departments make up the engineering function, Winter explains. One is communications and signals: professionals who manage electrical circuits, electronic communications, signals, and grade-crossing systems: the gates, lights and bells that warn people to stay clear of the tracks.
They also handle communications between locomotives and dispatch centers. "That's a big area for EEs," Winter notes. "We need communications-related engineers who can handle satellite technology, too."
The second engineering group is maintenance of way, responsible for the track infrastructure. "They design it, build it and maintain it. We have to replace railroad ties constantly," Winter says.
One of the jobs engineers frequently fill is track supervisor, responsible for getting the track inspected. "Rail is steel, and it's long and susceptible to weather and other wear and tear," Winter explains. The Federal Railroad Administration requires all track to be inspected regularly to protect the safety of the freight rail system nationwide.
The design and construction group handles projects for new and existing Norfolk Southern customers. "Say we start business with a new customer that needs its own service track that goes right into its premises. We design how it fits into our system and get the permitting to get it built," Winter says.
The fourth engineering area is building and bridges, where structural engineering professionals design new bridges, maintain existing bridges and work on other structures like tunnels.
In addition to the engineering department's four branches, there are also jobs for CEs, MEs and EEs in the mechanical department. They work on maintaining locomotives and managing the crews that repair cars and other devices that are in and on the train. Norfolk Southern works closely with GE, one of the major manufacturers of locomotives, doing a lot of refurbishing and retrofitting of existing locos. The company builds its own machinery to maintain the track infrastructure.
"You remember the old days of men swinging sledgehammers to knock in the spikes on the ties? All that is done now with big machines we design and build in our own shop," Winter says.
When it comes to IT, Norfolk Southern is not so different from other major companies. It looks for client-server programmers who are relational-database savvy as well as programmers, designers, developers and project managers; needed skill sets include Java, .Net, SQL and SAP.
IT is also crucial to the safety of the railroad in the form of GPS. Unlike airplanes, or cars and trucks on the highway, there's no swerving on a railroad, Winter says. "Generally, a train 100 cars long going at 50 mph is going to take a mile to stop. So we have to know where every train is. There's constant communication via satellite, cell towers, whatever information channels there might be, to make sure we know what each signal reads and that trains are where they're supposed to be."
Most engineers come to Norfolk Southern through its management training program, Winter says. "We like to see co-ops and internships on their resumes, and we like it if that training has been with us. We bring them on board and train them on our industry and the technology." The company expects to bring on 250 co-ops and interns during 2012.
Although Norfolk Southern focuses on college hiring, there are times when it needs people with specialized skills: an electrician construction supervisor who has supervised installation of complex electronics and signals systems, or technicians who have worked with sophisticated data-collection systems and are comfortable analyzing the data. The data they're looking at may come from Norfolk Southern's track telemetry cars that X-ray the rail and collect billions of bits of information on its condition.
A major new area will be "Positive Train Control." A fatal collision in California last year triggered a federal safety mandate for technology to sense if a train passes a stop signal and automatically stop the train without human interaction. It must be installed by the end of 2015.
"That's a skill set we know we're going to need: how to ensure 100 percent availability of communications data links between signal systems and locomotive cabs," Winter says.
Many new employees spend a day on diversity and inclusion classroom training. Norfolk Southern has had an active diversity council since 2002, with more than fifty active and 150 alumni members. The entire council meets annually. There are also task teams that meet frequently in person and via conference call.
The company has three employee affinity groups: Women in Norfolk Southern (WiNS), YoungNS, and Thoroughbred Volunteers. NS volunteers work with Habitat for Humanity, food banks, school supply drives and other community service projects. "Being a positive presence in our towns and cities is a big part of who we are," Winter adds.
About ten years ago Norfolk Southern started a formal mentoring program; software helps mentees and mentors connect. The company encourages all its experienced employees to coach those who are newer to the company and the industry.
The company has several important work-life balance programs: an alcohol and drug abuse recovery program, a childcare center, and a company-wide wellness program, especially important for employees in sedentary jobs like the engineer who drives the train. "We do have challenges around getting active, eating better and stopping tobacco use," Winter says.
One thing you won't find is many options in telework or flextime. "Trains run 24/7, many of our jobs require employees to be on call and we need people on the job around the clock," Winter explains.
Norfolk Southern Corp