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All Aboard: A rewarding career in rail awaits

I grew up in a part of central Ottawa that hasn’t seen trains or street cars in more than a century. The commuter rail that once ran from downtown to what were then the ‘burbs was ripped up by a former city council that had been persuaded to focus on buses instead. I’m the first to admit: if my mother hadn’t worked for CN, I likely wouldn’t have known much about rail. I also might have missed the chance to have the career of my dreams. I started as a summer intern at the Railway Association of Canada doing administrative tasks. Then, I started doing event planning. And now I’m in responsible for member relations. These three roles have made for an incredible career so far. I love what I do. And what railroaders do every day across the country is important. It’s an industry that moves more than $320 billion of Canadian goods to international markets and delivers a world of goods to Canadians’ doorsteps. It’s a collective of more than 36,000 people across Canada working to build a stronger, greener, more prosperous country. And it needs more employees to write the next chapter of its proud history.

Here’s the thing I find most fascinating about rail: it offers opportunities most people never associate with an industry that is older than Canada itself. Not only are there locomotive engineers and crew that run the trains. There are welders, mechanics, and countless other trades that keep vehicles on track, and the track themselves in tip-top shape. Supporting frontline railroaders are teams of marketers, accountants, and other office and management types. There are also IT experts, sustainability consultants, diversity specialists. In short, there’s a huge breadth of roles offering attractive salaries & benefits, interesting locations, and great opportunities. Regardless of where you are coming from or what you have to offer, you have a home in rail.

Rail companies big and small are looking for people from one end of the country to the other. People who want to make a positive impact on our economy. People who care about safety. Innovators. And people who care about making rail an even greener, more environmentally friendly mode of transport than it is today. Because there are rail companies from coast to coast, there are jobs from coast to coast.  Rail can be a ticket to work close to home or across Canada. Because of the breadth of careers, employees can practically choose their own adventure. Regardless of whether you’re from a small town or a big city, coming out of high school or a prestigious university program, if you’re willing to work hard, you can find a rewarding career in rail. The scope of the industry offers plenty of opportunities for a great work-life interface.

One of rail’s greatest untold stories is also among the reasons I am proudest to work in rail. Rail is on the journey of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples across this country. Indigenous young people are finding employment close to their communities in ever greater numbers. And Indigenous-owned rail companies are charting new courses toward opportunity and prosperity (Tshiuetin and Keewatin Railways). While railroaders have long valued our unique relationships with Indigenous peoples across the country, we, too, continue to learn. As more Indigenous people join our industry, our journey becomes more informed and the more enriched we all are. Diversity and inclusion are strengths – and ever more so.

Last year, despite the challenges of the global pandemic, my employer – the Railway Association of Canada – hosted this country’s first-ever Women in Rail event. I was inspired by the women who are leading our industry forward. From the frontline yard supervisor and maintenance worker to the C-suite executive and board chair, more women than ever are working in rail in Canada. Do we have more work to do? Absolutely. But there is undeniably a commitment to welcome more women, more people of all backgrounds, and people of all abilities to find their place in Canadian rail.

And that is where you come in. I was ecstatic to be asked to contribute to this edition because we need more school counsellors to be aware of the opportunities that abound in modern, Canadian railways. We need people to know that we continue to evolve as world-leaders in safety, as innovators in technology and wise practices, and as continuous improvers who are committed to make rail greener and more efficient. We need smart, talented, hard-working people who like a challenge and want to contribute to something much larger than any one of us. And we need you to help open their eyes to the possibilities of working in Canadian rail. Our member companies are always looking for their next hire. On average, our largest railways hire hundreds of people per year. The demand is there. The jobs are there. And the rewards are rich and varied. The next generation of railroaders will have to work just as hard as we always have. But we are working smarter and with a bigger picture in mind. Canadian rail is taking its place in a changing Canadian economy. We are moving people and goods more smoothly and efficiently. And we are taking pride in moving the economy forward as we do. For anyone who dreams of building a stronger Canada as part of a wonderful team, I would argue that there has never been a more exciting time to be a Canadian railroader. And never have there been more opportunities to make a mark in almost any chosen field. 

By: Janet Greene, Director of Member Engagement at the Railway Association of Canada