Making Connections

Amtrak is walking the walk when it comes to veteran hiring. The passenger railroad serves more than 31 million passengers annually and 500 destinations nationwide. The company committed in June 2013 that 25% of their new hires would be veterans by 2015. Over the next year, Amtrak expects to hire more than 3,000 employees, and during fiscal year 2012, more than 14 percent of their new hires were veterans.[1] The company plans to hit their goal by partnering with organizations like RecruitMilitary to attend career fairs across the country.

Patricia Kerins is Amtrak’s Talent Acquisition Manager, and is a big fan of RecruitMilitary hiring events.

She loves them because, “They are efficiently run, and applicant pools are good. They’re really my favorite job expos to attend. The venues are great, parking is easy, and everyone is well-prepared and well-dressed.” She estimates roughly a third of the employees that Amtrak has hired have come from RecruitMilitary events nationwide. Of all the company’s newly hired employees, 26% are veterans.

Why? “Vets hire vets,” she says. In fact, Amtrak has a long history of providing career opportunities to veterans as well as active military members. Kerins explains, “They are rules-oriented. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing. They have to. This can be a dangerous business, and safety comes first at Amtrak. Veterans come from an environment of rules. They are aware of safety, especially the veterans who have been in combat recently.” In jobs involving heavy machinery, or working outdoors on the right of way with moving trains passing close by, “You have to rely on someone else to help keep you safe.”

The veteran’s page on Amtrak’s website offers a unique MOS skills translator that showcases numerous Amtrak-specific jobs as a fit for various MOS’s as well as leadership experience.

But working at Amtrak doesn’t mean just trains. Veterans who served on a military police force may want to take a look at the Amtrak Police Department. These uniformed and undercover professionals keep the stations, passengers, and railroad staff safe and work closely with local, state, and federal agencies. They also conduct random passenger bag inspections, counter-surveillance, and run explosives detection canine sweeps with bomb dogs trained and certified to detect explosives. They send uniformed officers to attend career fairs, and are a big draw when they attend RecruitMilitary events.

Kerins points out that the potential to advance at Amtrak is huge. “Many veterans have a lot of experience with mechanical equipment, engines, and motors. There is always room to move up. You may start in car repair, but you can wind up running the shop.” She notes that their Chief Engineer, Bruce Pohlot, started out as a “track guy,” working on trains and putting spikes in rails. In fact, Kerins declares, “The time to advance has never been better. A sergeant starting out in an entry level job won’t remain there for long.”

Another example of veteran-to-Amtrak success is Manny Cabrera. He left the Marine Corps in 1995 as a sergeant after serving as a maintenance helicopter crew member and door gunner crew chief. Cabrera started his Amtrak career as a track worker, and worked his way up to become Director of Individual and Company (I&C) Projects. Now he coordinates outside contractors performing construction work in Amtrak facilities, projects that can run as high as $83 million.

At the end of the day, helping veterans find new opportunities is what keeps Kerins excited about her job at Amtrak, citing an email she received from a recently hired Amtrak employee as a motivator.

Ms. Kerins,
I just wanted to spend this moment thanking you for seeing the potential in me. When you and I met I wasn’t just a veteran, I was a homeless veteran that was presented with the chance of a lifetime. I am not going to let you down.
Thanks Again,
Terrence L. Pointer


RecruitMilitary Career Fair Leads to Amtrak Success for one Veteran

Today, Antoine Bias is one happy and grateful Amtrak employee, but it wasn’t an easy path for the Baltimore native. After working as a Navy aviation ordnanceman, and completing two 8-month deployments to Afghanistan, Bias got out of the service in 2010.  He found it hard to find a job at first, so he decided to go to school. He received a certificate in automotive engineering from Lincoln Tech.

His wife convinced him to go to a nearby RecruitMilitary Career Fair in June 2013 just to check it out. He admits to feeling nervous before the event started, so he appreciated the efforts of John Lundberg, who addressed the crowd before the doors opened, encouraging them to keep an open mind and to speak with all the exhibitors, advising that you never know what positions a company may be hiring for.

That advice resonated with Bias. He handed out resumes, talked to employers, and three days later started receiving calls to set up interviews. His third interview at Amtrak got him hired. He started two weeks later as a train mechanic and is now based out of Union Station in Washington, D.C.

He thinks his time in the Navy helped him get there as well as the transition help he received, particularly with resume tips. Bias believes his time spent in uniform made him become more detail-oriented, on time, organized, and developed his work ethic. In fact, his now-supervisors at Amtrak advised him in his interview that the environment and culture was very similar to the military. They assured Bias that he’d have no problem fitting right in, because he was already used to structure and had developed a solid work ethic from his time in the service. They were right. The culture at Amtrak “made me feel right at home.”

And what does Bias think of his new job? “I don’t even know where to begin. The environment is uplifting. The employees have a positive attitude, and everyone works as one team. You don’t have anyone who is disgruntled. Everyone is happy to be there.”

Bias hopes other veterans will take the same advice that John Lundberg gave him. “Keep an open mind,” he urges. He cautions veterans not to get discouraged. “Even if someone passes on you, it’s not the end of the world. Lots of employers are specifically seeking former military personnel.” Bias’s supervisors told him they prefer to hire veterans, but he observes, “I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t stopped by their booth to speak with them. I’m glad I did.”

He’s a Travelin’ Man – for the Cause of Veteran Employment

John Lundberg may not carry pompoms, but he’s still every bit a cheerleader and motivator for military veterans to find employment. He’s also the busiest guy in the room at a RecruitMilitary career fair. Lundberg serves as Director of Events, and is a former gunnery sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He schedules and travels to RecruitMilitary’s career fairs across the country, and is in charge of making sure the events run smoothly for both the companies and the veterans who attend them.

An important part of Lundberg’s job is kicking off each event with a motivational speech to the veteran candidates. His goal is to get them excited about visiting all the booths and to boost their confidence.

After years of running career fairs, Lundberg has amassed an array of veteran success stories that prove his theory that interacting with every company in attendance leads to finding a job.

As the veterans gather around the entrance of each venue before the doors open, Lundberg addresses the group. He frequently tells them, “Look, you’ve taken the time to come today, now here’s how to make the most of it.”  He advises candidates to speak with each and every exhibitor, and not to make assumptions about what a company does or the types of positions it may be seeking to fill.

“We strive to put together a great lineup of candidates and a great lineup of companies. Beyond that, the connections they make are up to them. We can’t tell companies who to hire or force veterans to visit each booth, so I try to encourage the candidates by sharing stories. We want them to be successful.”

He also urges veterans to think beyond the skill sets they have been trained in, and focus on the many intangible qualities that develop with the military experience. “If you were an MP, don’t just pigeonhole yourself and think you can only get a job in law enforcement or security. Think of what you did in the military. Most likely, you were in charge of personnel and in charge of equipment. That makes you a leader. Employers are looking for leaders. But the only way you’ll find out is to go talk to them,” he says.

What if a candidate misses the opening remarks? No worries. Each receives a booklet of exhibitors at each event. On the back is a summary titled “Making the Most of Today’s Event.”

[1] Amtrak, Inc., Volume 18, Issue 5 (June 2013)

About the Author

This article was written by Liz Wheeler