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In October 2015, a survey was developed to identify the concerns that mid-career professionals face in their rail careers. The survey, also supported by UIC, sought to understand the views of individuals in informing the retention of specialised knowledge and skills in the rail industry, how the industry can maximise the potential of talented people, and how the industry can benefit from an engaged staff.
More than 350 professionals from thirty countries responded. While the survey was targeted at mid-career professionals, estimated initially to be from 45 – 55 years of age, there was strong interest from people in age groups ranging from under 30 years through to above 60 years. The participants included those from various rail companies, private and state owned, and came from various educational backgrounds including those with school certificates, graduate and post graduates, engineers and PhDs.
The report identifies findings related to three major concerns of work/life balance (31%), career advancement (30%) and the management of talent (15%). While work/life balance was rated the highest issue rail professionals face in their careers (largest age group 46 – 50), most respondents revealed that managing work and life is an assumed part of their professional roles.
The most surprising finding, however, was that two particular age groups reported facing the other two concerns strongly – mainly career advancement (41 – 45 age group) and talent management (60 years and above).
Even though the survey was not aimed at rail professionals under 45 years of age, there were significant numbers of responses to consider this groups’ views as a major impact on innovation, skills retention and engagement by new talent with the global rail industry. Younger age groups want to advance their careers, be provided opportunities to develop their skills in various roles and situations including international exchanges, job and role shadowing and exchange, and opportunities to act in higher level roles.
In the age groups 45 – 60 years and above, mid-career and later career rail professionals, identified issues of unfairness related to age and gender bias (even though there was no question about participants’ gender). The two themes of experience, talent and professional expertise being overlooked; and limited opportunities provided by companies for professional development and networking that would enhance specialist expertise were also mentioned frequently.
Analysis shows that more than half of the participants have for various reasons accepted their situation. A much higher percentage of participants (60%) prefer to plan their own career instead of talking to their manager (17%). In many accounts, and across all age groups, considering the mental health of employees and the softer side of people’s aspirations was noted as highly important for managers, yet apparently not undertaken adequately in many companies.
The findings of this survey are insightful for companies in managing intergenerational workforces effectively to enable the potential of all professional rail employees to contribute to stronger, innovative and more effective organisations.