The following is my experience with NARS. It is an experience shared by EVERYONE I have been able to keep in contact with from my graduating class. One year after graduation, NO ONE from my graduating class has found employment with the railroad. BUYER BEWARE!
I read the literature provided by NARS and met in person with several people in charge of the Conductor Training program at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park Kansas prior to taking on a huge loan, quitting my job and enrolling in this program. They were convincing so I prayed with the wife and kids and decided to make a career change. The program cost me over $4000 cash + living expenses for the two months I was enrolled from April 07 through May 07. Being a Kansas resident, my tuition was much less than the poor guys that came from out of state. Out of state students pay over $7000 tuition + hotel and living expenses for 6 weeks.
The school everywhere promises "make $75,000 a year as a Conductor" with BNSF logos on everything. I estimate they graduate at least 200 people every 6 weeks. Whether the railroad is hiring or not. They keep taking money from people desperate to provide for their families and give them NOTHING but a stack of worthless books after 6 weeks. Do the math! MOST of the students are from out of state. $7000 x 200 every 6 weeks. nice.....
Ok so you get enrolled and start your classes. The classes ARE taught by knowledgeable instructors and seem to be pretty thorough. It really is just a basic overview of railroad rules and regulations. The General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR) for the railroad is as big as a telephone book and it will take a lifetime to become intimately familiar with every little thing in it. But you do gain a pretty good understanding of it and your final exam is based on it. They say you must pass with 90% or better. They give you two chances. Nearly everyone passes. It's not that difficult if you've shown up for class every day and stayed awake. Congratulations! You hung in there and you graduated scoring 98% on your final exam! Time to go to work right? Sorry.....
Then you are told that you must take the Trainmans Conductor Aptitude Test (TCAT) if you want to be considered by BNSF for employment. And guess what, you have to pay another $25 for the privilege and spend 3 hours answering questions like "do you prefer to go to a party or go fishing?" Brilliant. Wouldn't you think they would require the aptitude test as a prerequisite for enrolling in the course? "You did really well in your studies and scored well on your GCOR exam but we're sorry, you don't have the kind of "personality" we're looking for based on our aptitude test. We can not hire you. Go back to Ohio." Nice...
But, the test is not hard, just long. Most everyone passes. Congratulations! NOW you are ready for that high paying railroad job! Uh... not so fast slim.
It's interview time! The school promises you an "interview: with BNSF and tells you that other recruiters will be onsite to hire graduates. The recruiters from Union Pacific and KC Southern are the only ones who show up. You go to both sessions though because you just want to work for a Class I railroad.
KC Southern says they won't be hiring in the near future. Union Pacific is much more optimistic and expects to hire thousands of Conductor Trainees this year! Cool! *See Union Pacific Hiring at end of essay*
The BNSF interviews are mock interviews only. They are not for any particular position. The interview counts for nothing. Everyone dresses up, goes into the interview, they ask you maybe 4 questions. Generic interview questions:
"Who is responsible for safety?" & "Can all accidents be prevented?". Interview over in 5 min. Thanks for coming.
Ummm... I....errrrrr.... huh?
(Lest you think I'm just some idiot who was unprepared and has no personality... I have a very stable work history with excellent personal and professional references in fields directly related to railroading and working outdoors in harsh conditions at all hours and shifts with a variety of heavy construction equipment. I am attractive, personable, clean cut and well educated.)
I "passed the interview" with flying colors! They were very impressed with my resume and my personality. NOW I can finally go to work! YES! Um..... NO! This interview at the school is not for a particular position. It counts for NOTHING. They only do it because they "promise" you an interview prior to enrolling. You got your interview.
You have to now go online, look for open positions and apply for them and hope you are called in for an interview. If the position is not in your back yard, they won't call you. If you are in Ohio and apply for a job in Texas you are out of luck. It doesn't matter how willing and able to relocate you are. You will only be considered for jobs that are close to you. Glory be! You get lucky... just 8 months after you graduate a job is posted within an hour's drive of your town! You apply and are selected for an interview. YES! You anxiously and excitedly anticipate the date of your interview. The website says these jobs are for NARS graduates only! YES! It's a done deal! I've graduated, passed the TCAT, passed the interview at the college... that's it!
You were born for this moment! Finally, a career that will last a lifetime and pay you a decent wage.
You show up at the hotel where the interviews are being held bright and early in the morning. Freshly showered, shaved and dressed for success. You locate the room and holy cow! There are over 200 guys in here! How many positions are open? Lemme see.... (panic) what are my odds.... *sigh*
You talk with the guys around you. They are mostly graduates from NARS at some time long past. 1, 2, 3 years have gone by and they are still looking for work! You just assume there is probably something wrong with them. YOU are a better candidate. Just gimme a chance and I'll shine! Yeah... ok.
The local manager addresses the group. Asks how many of you are NARS graduates? Half of the room raises their hands. The other half??? They are just people that applied online without going to the college! But the Job Posting clearly said "for NARS graduates ONLY". Well, here they are. They received an invitation just like yours.
The manager then goes into what is known as the "Scary Talk". He will tell you how "horrible and terrible it is to work on the railroad and that the divorce rate in 100% and you might die and you will never ever, ever be home! You will work 365 days a year in sun and snow and will never be seen or heard from again." ok whatever. We take a 10 min break. He was able to scare off 6 people out of the 200. They leave at the break and don't return.
Yackity yack for 2 hours about the company and the railroad lifestyle. Then they schedule interviews. You have 2 1/2 hrs to stand around waiting for your turn. Don't go anywhere! Wait in the hall or you might miss your name being called. Wow, the other candidates are coming out of the interview room after less than 5 min! You chat a little with them. They tell you what you dread. They were asked 4 questions and thanked for their time. They are dejected and shake their heads in disgust. But still, you remain positive! I KNOW I'm the perfect candidate for this job.
You are finally called! You shake hands, have a seat and look forward to engaging the Manager in a meaningful discussion of your qualifications.
They ask you the same 4 questions you were asked last year at school. About safety, etc. The interviewers make very little eye contact and seem interested in one thing. Getting this day over with! They thank you for coming and usher you out the door. 5 min total.
You drive slowly home after a very long day. How did you do? They will notify you by email several weeks later. Your wife and kids are anxious to hear about your interview. You put on a brave face and tell them you think you did well. But there were a lot of people there and there are only a few open positions. 3 weeks later you are informed by email that you were not selected and that you must wait 6 months before applying again. But there will not be any open positions in your area in 6 months. Or a year. Or two years.
UNION PACIFIC & Norfolk Southern
*None of the other Class I railroads recognize your NARS diploma. They have their OWN classes that you must attend for another 16 weeks at about $9/hr*
You have one last chance. These two railroads are hiring. You apply for positions online and wait. You receive invitations from both and are able to attend their hiring sessions.
NORFOLK SOUTHERN: there are 100 guys in your hiring session. Some are well dressed. Others wearing dirty jeans and "Larry the Cable Guy" shirts and ball caps. The Manager asks "just out of curiosity, how many of you are NARS graduates?" About half the people raise their hands. He laughs out loud! He asks "how much did you pay to go to that school? Did they promise you a job? Why would you spend all that money when you are just going to have to go through OUR 16 week class on the same thing and WE pay you for it!" hahahaha! yeah.... real funny. and "We only have one position open and it's not for a conductor. It's a yard job and it pays minimum wage". You got through the 2 hour "Scary Talk" and then are asked to take a 2 hour aptitude test. HEY! I already took and passed the TCAT! They don't know, don't care. Take our test. Ok. You take the test and go to break while they "grade" the tests. Everyone is assembled back in the room and they begin to read names. If your name is not called, you did not pass the aptitude test and you are not invited to continue in the hiring process. Surprise! NONE of the NARS graduates passed the aptitude test! We look at each other stunned! The manager urges us to collect out things and leave the room as soon as possible as they have a long day ahead of them. And Thanks For Coming! Nice....
You are interviewing with UP! They seem to be the most sincere of the bunch thus far. You go through the "Scary Talk" and then learn that like all the other railroads, your NARS training and graduation and TCAT testing means nothing to them. The room is full of scruffy men and women who know nothing about the railroad and just replied to an add. You also notice the room is half full of NARS graduates from recent to longs past. You are starting at the bottom.
UP also has their own 16 week course and pay you $9/hr.
If anything, they say, they have had some bad experiences with NARS graduates acting like "know-it-alls" in class and wonder if you could behave during the course. You convince them that in fact you would behave and strive to be an asset. You convince them that you attended a very expensive and narrow scoped trade school just to demonstrate how serious you are about the career and to make yourself the best possible candidate. They seem impressed and you wait to get the email. Three weeks later you are informed that you were not selected and to try again someday. They would be interested in hiring you in BumFukt Iowa though! Drive up there and interview with them! No thanks. I'm done.
The school misleads people by propagating the following myths and falsehoods:
Myth: The course is necessary to gain employment with BNSF.
Fact: You need only KNOW someone within BNSF. They will hire you BEFORE you attend class. I'm sure "some" graduates eventually find jobs but the VAST majority do NOT. I personally know of several people who were hired before attending the course because they knew someone. I have heard of many others.
Myth: Other railroads are impressed with your NARS diploma.
Fact: The other railroads will tell you outright it means NOTHING to them and probably counts against you since you used such poor judgment in spending your own money on the course.
This school is just a big money mill! Please learn from my mistake and save your money for a REAL trade school! If anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to correspond.