By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 10, 2012 – Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines considering separating from the active-duty military this year may seek employment options in the railways industry, which today became the latest to pledge jobs to veterans.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the 5,000-job pledge in a conference call with reporters, making rail the latest industry to offer jobs as part of the Joining Forces campaign. He was joined by Ed Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, and Navy Capt. Brad Cooper, director of Joining Forces, which First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, created to help service members, veterans and their families.
Obama and Biden announced the hiring campaign last summer, with a goal of hiring 100,000 veterans or military spouses by 2013. Today, Cooper said, 1,600 companies have signed on to the Joining Forces challenge, hiring 90,000 veterans and spouses with pledges to hire 170,000 more in the coming years.
What is unique about today’s announcement, Cooper said, is that the 5,000 rail jobs are open now or in the very near future. They are listed on the association’s website, http://www.aar.org.
The jobs, offered by about 500 companies, range from operating locomotives to working in signaling and telecommunications. “It’s the whole spectrum of work,” Cooper said. Most of the jobs are in freight rail, but also with Amtrak, commuter rails and rail supply companies, he said.
The industry is hiring because it’s growing, Hamberger said, with some $23 billion in investments at the same time that nearly a quarter of the freight rail workforce will be eligible to retire by 2015.
“We want to reach out and let veterans know that we’re hiring,” he said.
The industry has actively recruited veterans since it sought out military academy graduates to build the first railroad system more than 200 years ago, Hamberger said.
“We’ve learned that the skills service members learn in the armed forces translate very well to our industry,” he said. “We, first and foremost, are focused on safety. You learn in the armed services that if you don’t follow the rules, bad things happen.
“We need teamwork, dependability, and high tech,” he added, noting that military experience builds those skills.
The rail industry made more than 20,000 new hires last year –which was more than 5,000 than it expected – and one in four are veterans, Hamberger said.
Improving the nation’s railways and hiring veterans are two of President Barack Obama’s priorities, LaHood said. “Today’s generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world,” he said. “The president has asked that we serve them as they have served us.”
About 15,000 veterans work for the Transportation Department, LaHood said, and 3,000 of those have disabilities, many from their military service. The department recently created a Web portal – http://www.dot.gov/veteranstransportationcareers – “that tells our returning warriors what jobs are available and how they can become certified,” he said.
“Helping our veterans find work and fulfilling our transportation needs is a win-win,” he said.