Ever wonder how to build skills for railroad jobs?

Railroad doule track

Like most industries, the railroad industry requires some very unique skills.  Unlike most industries, the railroads industry provides you the training you will need to be successful at your job.  Where an electrician can get training through school programs and apprenticeship programs, a railroader is mostly trained through the company that hires them.  This includes rules training on Federal Railroad Administration requirements and technical training to perform their specific craft.  This fact makes applying for a railroad position a little bit different than most jobs.

When you apply to be an automotive tech, chances are you have experience in the automotive industry.  If you are applying for an electrical position, the same thing applies, but in the railroad industry, many times the people that are hired for skilled craft positions do not have any railroad experience. If you have never worked on a railroad, don’t fret. You still have a good shot at getting hired as long as you’ve built skills for railroad jobs in other ways.

Prerequisite skills for railroad jobs

There are a few things that all companies will require, regardless of the job type.  You will need at least a high school education or equivalent.  You will have to be able to pass a strength test, drug test, physical and eye screening.  If you are color blind, you can not work in any position that will require you to read signals. Technology may change this in the future, but for now, the transportation, signal and track department will all require a color blindness test as part of your hiring physical.  If you are applying for a craft that will require a CDL, or if your seniority will allow you to hold a job with a CDL, you must be at least 21 years of age.  Otherwise the age limit is 18, with a year of work experience.

Work Ethic

This is the number one thing railroads look for when hiring new employees.  They look for consistent job history, military training and any extra training that you have picked up along the way to show that you are someone who wants to work.  If you have taken extra classes, volunteered for a local organization or volunteered for an extra assignment at work, make sure those things make it to your resume.

Safe Work Record

Railroads are  dangerous; there is really no way around it.  On June 28, 2016 4 people went to work for BNSF,  only 1 came home.  One engineer was able to jump from the train before the two engines collided in a head on collision in Panhandle, TX.  February 21, 2016 a track worker for Norfolk and Southern went to work, he was killed when he was hit by a train while working on the track.  Those are only 2 of the fatalities suffered by the railroad industry so far this year.

Make sure you highlight your safety record on your resume.  This means talking about your driving record, your injury record, and anything that you have done to create a safer work place in the past.  Railroads want to know you are contentious about your safety and the safety of those around you.

Outdoor Work Experience

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but railroads are not usually indoors. Railroads prefer people who are used to working outdoors in all weather.  The running joke on the railroad is that it is always 72 and sunny on the tracks, because no matter what the weather, you are going to be out in it.  If you have done farm work, worked on an oil platform, done road work, anything that shows you are willing to work outside in all weather conditions is a plus.

Cumberland Yard Snowy engine

It’s always 72 and sunny on the railroad!

On Call Work Experience

Railroads operate 24/7, 365 days a year.  Trains run on Christmas, they run on New Years, they run at 2 am on a Saturday.  If you have past experience in a position that required you to work on call at all hours of the day and night, the railroad looks at that as a positive.  Not all skilled trade positions will have to work on call on a consistent basis, but most do.  In the event of a major disaster, even those that don’t usually work on call may get called out.

The Learned Skills

Experience in other industries comes in handy depending on the path you take to the industry. Welders, heavy equipment operators, electricians, and telecommunications workers will all have a leg up with this type of experience.

Railroad Track Work

Railroad track workers are responsible for fixing and maintaining track conditions and rail.  Any previous welding or cutting experience is considered an asset in a track worker.  The railroad will provide additional training that is specific to the railroad industry, but previous experience will make the process smoother for you and the railroad you are hired onto.

Track workers are also responsible for the track beds under the rail so previous experience with heavy equipment is also a plus.  Track workers may be required to run dozers, back hoes or track hoes.  Any previous experience with this type of equipment will give you a leg up on the competition.

Railroad Track Workers Grinding Rail at Night


Railroad Signal Work

The signal department is responsible for installing and maintaining the train control system and all crossing equipment.  The equipment itself is very specialized and engineered specifically for railroad applications, but the theories behind it are not.  Knowledge of basic electrical theories like Ohm’s law or series and parallel circuits will help you understand how to install and maintain the equipment.

If you are interested in working on the construction side of signal work, a Class A CDL with air brake endorsement is required.  The railroad will help you get one if you are qualified in all other aspects, but having one going in will help.  Previous experience with cranes and backhoes is also a big plus

The Communications Department

The communications department is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the train control system.  In addition to the train control system, the communications department is responsible for the installation and maintenance of radios, printers and end of train devices.  To work in the communications department an FCC license or military equivalent is required.  Previous experience with fiber and CAT cable are also a plus.  To find more information about obtaining an FCC universal license, visit the FCC website.

Working for a railroad is a great career choice and previous experience isn’t required.  A few key skills for railroad jobs and a great work ethic will give you a great shot at getting hired on your railroad of choice.

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How to Pay for Trade School


Finding out how to pay for trade school is not much different from a traditional university.  People that have a great work ethic, can understand traditional work methods and methods using new computerized technology are in great demand. This means a lot of funding is being funneled into the trades from both public and private sources and finding money for trade school is possible.

Finding the Right Trade School

What school is right for you?  There are a lot of different schools out there that vary in cost and quality of education.  If you compare a welding program at your local community college to a welding program at a national chain school you might find a difference of over $20,000 dollars, but cost is not the only factor you should consider when choosing your trade school.

  • Talk to industry professionals.  People that are currently working in the industry of your choice will have seen the products of different educational programs and can give you insight on what programs are best.  They can also tell you where they got their start and what is required to get started in the industry.
  • Talk to trade associations.  Every trade has a trade association, welding has the American Welding Society, electrical contractors have the National Electrical Contractors Association, etc.  Trade associations can give you insight into educational programs and hook you up with industry professionals that can help guide you.
  • Google it.  Look for things like graduation rates, ratings and reviews.

This is your education, be sure to do your due diligence in researching the right school for you.

Talk to Your Financial Aid Counselor

Your first step in determining how to pay for trade school is to talk to the financial aid counselor at your school of choice. The financial aid counselor will help you fill out your Free Application For Student Aide (FAFSA) forms and explain all the costs associated with attending school.   There are also many private endowments that come from former graduates, and the counselor at your school will know all about these opportunities. They will help you figure out what you are eligible for and how to apply.

Filling out a FAFSA form will make you eligible for all federal grant programs as well as federal loan programs.  Along with federal grants, each state has at least one program to provide grants to students from their states.  The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators is a great resource, just click on your state to find out what is available.

Scholarships For Trade Schools

Brand Scholarships

Scholarships for trade schools are more abundant than most people think.  Big name companies in this country have a problem, lots of jobs and no one qualified to fill them.  In response to this problem, many brands have started giving out scholarships.  The best thing about these scholarships is they give you an immediate leg up in the industry.  Brands like Grainger, Catterpillar and Honeywell all give out millions of dollars in scholarship money each year.  If you are awarded one of their scholarships, the brand is more likely to hire you in the future.  Some companies like Ford, John Deere and CSX  prefer to give scholarship money through national high school organizations like the FFA.  The point is, big brands in your industry are interested in helping you get the skills you need to be successful in your industry.

If there is a brand you are interested in working for, a quick google search will tell you if they are giving out scholarship money and how to apply for them.  K&N air filters, Fluke meter company, Toyota, Lincoln Electric, all have some type of scholarship program available.  I think you will have a harder time finding a large company that doesn’t give out scholarship money than one that does.

Private Scholarships

Private Scholarships can come from any private or non profit organization, and guess what, there are a lot of those to. 

  • Build Your Future is a non profit organization that helps people get their start in the construction trades.  They have scholarships, and they are a great resource for finding out about career options in any of the construction trades.
  • Mike Rowe’s Work Ethic scholarship gave out over $800,000 to trade school students last year, and they would love to top that for next year.
  • Trade associations like the American Welding Society, The Collision Repair Education Foundation and The National Concrete Masonry Assocation  all give scholarships to students interested in learning their trade.
  • National high school organizations like FFA and 4-H award scholarships to their members at the local and national level.  Many times these scholarships are sponsored by a large company and this can give you a leg up if you are interested in working for that company. If you are a member of any high school organization, be sure to check with your leaders about scholarship opportunities.

Scholarship opportunities are out there.  Talk to trade associations, Google your favorite company or talk to people in your trade.  A little research can go a long way to finding the money you need to go to school, and giving you better employment opportunities once you are out.

 Automotive diaganosis

Apprenticeships and Work Study programs.

An apprenticeship is a great way to hands on experience, get experience towards your licencing requirements and make a little money at the same time.  Apprenticeship programs are usually offered by the union associated with your trade.  The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers offers apprenticeship programs to people interested in working in the electrical industry.  The United Association Union  of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and Service Techs was one of the first to offer an apprenticeship program and they have done a great job working with company management to create a successful program.

Most large companies have some type of continuing education plan for it’s employees.  It may be a traditional work study program that allows you extra time off to complete your studies while partnering you with people in the types of jobs you are interested in, or it may be an offer to cover a certain amount of tuition each year.  Either way, you are earning money and continuing your education.

Student Loans

After completing the FAFSA application, you will receive a “Financial Award” letter, but it is likely that this award will include some student loans.  Student loans must be paid back, and are usually not subject to things like bankruptcy.  Remember that a loan is a product that is being sold to you, it is not free money.  You will have to pay interest on the money you borrow and there are different stipulations on each loan regarding repayment, interest and hardship.  Make sure you fully understand the loan process and the loan that you are accepting before you sign anything.

Trade School is Possible

Trade school is a possibility for anyone who is interested in attending.  Talk to the financial aide counselor of the school you are interested in attending. They will walk you through the FAFSA application and help you apply for any school sponsored scholarships that are you are eligible for.  Talk to trade associations, Google your favorite company and check with the union associated with your trade.    If you still find yourself short of cash, student loans may be available to you or you may qualify for an apprenticeship or work study program.

Today this country has a big skilled trades gap.  Companies need skilled workers and they are willing to help people interested in working for them acquire those skills.

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Launching a career as a telecommunications technician


What is a Telecommunications Technician?

Many have heard of the telecommunications industry, but what does a telecommunications technician do for a living?  A telecommunications technician can wear many different hats.  This type of person works on construction sites pulling cable for data drops, mounts cameras, and installs access control for card readers.  Others in this field work from cellular phone towers or route and terminate fiber optics cabling.  Some may work for local phone, internet, and cable television providers, showing up at your home for installations throughout the day.

Telecommunications technician training

Training opportunities in the telecommunications industry are widely available for those who know where to look.  Both union and nonunion electrical contractors offer a combination of excellent on-the-job training and instructional classroom education for new employees looking for a career in the trades.  Apprenticeships through local area contractors typically range from three to five years depending on the diversity of training before earning the journeyman title.  Technicians who have success working in the field will eventually find themselves in supervisory and management positions, thus providing numerous chances to further their career.

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Find a local contractor

There’s a multitude of places to look for employment within the telecommunications industry.  A person doesn’t have to have years of experience to land a job in this field.  The first place a job seeker can visit is their local electrical contractor.  These contractors are in the business of building homes, offices, and high-rises for their clients and are often looking for entry level help.  An easy way of locating these contractors is by calling your union hall, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and asking for a list of electrical contractors in your area.

Network to learn more

You can also talk with other professionals working within the telecommunications industry via online forums, social media websites and live chat rooms.  Often there’s no better advice about where to find a job in a particular industry than the advice given from a journeyman technician.  Getting to know people currently working in the career you’re pursuing will always be of value to you.  Also, there’s a wealth of information standing behind a Google query.  Be curious and look around online. You will be surprised what you can find.

The telecommunications industry is an excellent field for trade workers who value the ever-changing landscapes of computers and technology.

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