Our Customer Collaboration interviews seeks to highlight our customer successes, and challenges, so that we can share lessons learned and wisdom gained with other railroad professionals.
Thinking of how to provide your staff life-like experience on critical tasks, reducing errors and fines – without additional rolling stock, instruction, and travel? Then read on.
In this interview, we speak with Wink Hinkley, Manager of Talent Acquisition and Development at Alaska Railroad to discuss common training challenges that railroads like AKRR face — including training material from an earlier era, a disconnect between classroom and OJT, and difficulty of knowledge transfer — and how scenario-based training can help improve these areas.
Alaska Railroad is a self-sustaining, full-service railroad serving ports and communities from the Gulf of Alaska to Fairbanks. Owned by the State of Alaska since 1985, the Railroad is one of North America’s only railroads providing both passenger and freight service, and one of the last railroads with whistle and flag stop service.
Stefan Haas-Heye for Heartwood (HW): Wink, can you just please introduce yourself, and your role at Alaska Railroad?
Wink Hinkley: First of all, thanks for the invite and and the ability to talk about what we’ve done here at Alaska Railroad. I am a talent acquisition development manager — what that means is I’m in charge of finding talent, recruiting talent, bringing in talent and then developing that talent throughout their tenure.
We put a large focus on finding innovative strategies to help develop our talent so that the information is retained along the way.
HW: Can you tell us a little bit about the training programs at Alaska Railroad and how they’re organized?
Wink: So you know, I came in because I knew about delivery methods and curriculum. So in this position, not being the subject matter expert, I spent a lot of time with those subject matter experts in the delivery of their craft and finding different ways to provide that training.
When I first came on one of my jobs was to really analyze the training, and what I found was an elementary system. It was pretty much “here’s the CFR, read it,” with a lot of time outside going over things. And some people got it, but others didn’t. It’s how they received the material.
Some people needed a lot more information upfront before they launched into an OJT, and we didn’t necessarily have that. It’s an old school mentality of how they were brought up in the industry. And so we found some difficulties.
HW: What difficulties?
Wink: We did a lot of in house training that was quiet. Just reading and soaking material. Some of the younger people coming in didn’t take to it. Often it was a PowerPoint slide that was copied word for word from the CFR. They would sit in a classroom as we go over the content.
If they get it, they get it. If not, they have to pick it up when they hit the track. And I just thought that the retention and system was not good for the new generation.
It wasn’t that much engagement and that’s where I said “Hey, can we do something better?” We needed to spend more time in the training channels.
HW: What was your solution?
Wink: We wanted to provide something prior to the OJT and getting out so they could maintain safety and have some familiarization with what they were working with. They would get experience how to work, what needed to happen, and why.
And when I saw what Heartwood had to provide — I think I I found it from LinkedIn and and through sharing of different information — it was really attractive to see.
Wink: Because in the world of training and development, gamification and simulation, all of that information and delivery of curriculum has become more attractive and it has attracted different and more more adaptable talent to learn the mechanics and the systems that that we use today.
And so that’s good.
HW: What have been the benefits of using virtual training at AKRR?
Wink: They really understand the complete system that they were working on. But it makes OJT training more efficient, more safe and easily retainable material.
I actually use it in the recruiting world as well because I stage and I try to attract new talent and showing what they would be working on and what it really looks and feels like. It’s the same thing we did in the Air Force by throwing people in a fighter pilot simulation or giving a 3D module that looked at a jet engine.
It’s beyond compliance. Compliance is important, yes. But we want everybody to understand — really know — so that they’re better at their job, they can do things more efficient and they can be safe while doing it.
These highlights were part of a larger interview, which you can watch here.
Looking to upskill your agile railroading staff with scenario-based learning on 6 railcar types, 11 brake types, 30+ defects on your current systems – PCs, tablets or LMS?
Heartwood’s packaged suite of apps starts at 50+ users. On your devices. In 30 days.