Union Pacific Railroad: 2023 BEST Award Winner, #7
As one of the oldest and largest railroads in the US, Union Pacific's roots in corporate America run deep. The 160-year-old freight-hauling railroad also is a forward-leaning, innovative company, leading by example on diversity and inclusion, professional development and training, as well as technical prowess.
Comprehensive D&I initiatives, continuous investments in its operations department, and ensuring employees remain digitally savvy through upskilling and reskilling are just a few of the ways the talent management team develops and maintains a robust, highly trained workforce that reflects the company's values. Union Pacific likewise offers incentives and certifications for professional development and takes a strategic approach to identifying up-and-coming employees who demonstrate leadership potential.
"Ours is an organizational culture of connection, with 160 years of connecting oceans, a continent, and countless lives. Talent management is a proud steward of that culture, connecting individuals and teams to organizational goals through learning," says Tonya Eggspuehler, assistant vice president of talent acquisition and workforce resources.
Union Pacific Railroad, which was founded in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, employs more than 30,000 people and delivers goods used nationwide. Operating in 23 western states, the company connects its customers and communities to the global economy.
Prioritizing D&I"Union Pacific is committed to expanding our team, focusing on diversity and inclusion, and creating a work environment that supports a broad range of backgrounds and experiences," says Chief Diversity Officer Debra Schrampfer. "We believe our most innovative solutions will come from teams of people who view challenges through different lenses."
That means Union Pacific strives to ensure managers and employees develop a greater sensitivity to and appreciation for cultural differences and diversity in the workplace. To that end, the D&I office facilitates virtual D&I listening sessions, hosted by the chair and chief HR officer. During the popular sessions, executive panelists share personal stories on featured topics, such as corporate community obligations.
Meanwhile, a unique training opportunity—titled Empowering Our Differences: Identity, Privilege, and Psychological Safety and Trust—encourages managers to hold themselves, their colleagues, and the organization accountable for creating a more diverse, accepting, and equitable workplace. The company has presented the newly developed, instructor-led program to more than 2,700 managers.
A new two-year sponsorship program called Uplift selects about 40 high-potential employees from underrepresented groups each year and pairs them with Union Pacific executives to create career-mobility opportunities, expand networking circles, and offer executive leadership training. It's working: Sixty-four percent of participants in their second cohort year, and 30 percent of participants in their first, have received promotions or made development moves. Further, 92 percent of participants believe the company is investing in their future.
Union Pacific also launched a Second Chance hiring program, opening new career doors for the formerly incarcerated and improving the quality of life for families and communities by helping to break the cycle of poverty. In the ever-competitive war for talent, Second Chance sets Union Pacific apart as an employer of choice and is a source of pride for all its employees.
"Second Chance hiring is a win-win for all," says Eggspuehler. "It is a bold and innovative program that gives formerly incarcerated individuals a fair chance at employment while giving Union Pacific a chance to tap into a new labor source."
Making an impactEmployees receive myriad opportunities to continue developing professionally through industry-specific learning, designed either by Union Pacific or by outside vendors. E-learning, offered through LinkedIn Learning, gives employees on-demand access to more than 10,000 courses that can help expand their technical, people, and leadership skills. During the past 12 months, employees have completed more than 97,000 LinkedIn Learning courses.
In addition, the company partners with local universities to give employees access to higher education, with Union Pacific paying all tuition and fees up front. In the past year, approximately 375 employees have taken advantage of the program.
The implementation of mobile technology last year significantly reduced the cycle times for employees through a portable, digital, real-time reporting system used in the flow of work. Before the handheld mobile devices, train crews spent approximately 30 minutes printing the paperwork needed to perform their duties during the shift. Now, train crews no longer need to print paper records, reducing cycle time to about eight minutes and increasing productivity and crew turnaround.
Terri Carlson, senior director of technology, says that the devices "offer our crews the ability to have up-to-date information in the palm of their hand. Digital train paperwork helps to streamline the process, reducing start-of-shift paperwork delays and, ultimately, helping us get products to our customers sooner."
The technology reduced the administrative burdens of pen-and-paper reporting and the stress of record retention, resulting in better work-life balance for employees and increased customer satisfaction.
The devices also enable employees to access federally regulated rule books and report industry work, which prepares employees for rule compliance and working with customers. A 24-hour, seven-days-a-week call center is accessible for reporting and functionality issues.
"Union Pacific's talent management team's resources, its guidance, and its recognition for individualized learning promote compelling opportunities for employees to grow and reaffirms our commitment to promoting and retaining a skilled workforce second to none," says Eggspuehler.
View the entire list of 2023 BEST Award winners.