A study of the University Directory which gives the occupations of all living men who have at any time been registered as students in Harvard University shows that an exceedingly small proportion of them are engaged in transportation work. The same is true of the alumni of other universities. Railroad service, it appears, has not attracted the college-trained men. There are of course, notable exceptions. It may be cited, for example, that of the five railroad presidents who formed the Railroads' War Board, and who had almost complete control of, the administration of all of the railroads in the country during the nine months preceding Federal control, four were college men--Harrison of Yale, Elliott of Harvard, Holden of Williams and Kruttschnitt of Washington and Lee. On the whole, however, college men form a very small percentage of the 20,000 who are classified as general or divisional railroad officers. The purposes of this article are (1) to point out the reasons which influence the college man to avoid the railroads; (2) to show that the educated man is now needed more than ever before in railroad service; and (3) to call attention to changed conditions which may make the railroads recognize the value of college graduates and offer inducements which will attract them.
The typical railroad officer of the old school came up through the ranks. Usually he began work at an early age, and his general education was limited. His specialized education was obtained in the hard school of practical experience. He has been inclined to regard years of practical experience as the only effective training for positions of responsibility. Holding that viewpoint, he has minimized the value of a broad education, and has looked upon the college graduate as a theorist. Facing this critical attitude the college man has been handicapped. His progress has been hard won. As he has compared notes with classmates who have gone into other lines of business, he has found that railroad salaries in the subordinate positions are relatively low, that the hours are relatively long, and that the work is relatively hard. He has found that the restrictions of the seniority rule have tended to throw him in a pool where age in service rather than special merit or fitness is the yard stick for promotion. He has found himself restricted by the barriers of labor unions. He has been apt to become discouraged, and finally to embrace one of the offers of other business concerns which have a greater appreciation of the value of broad educational training.
Attitude is Changing
Happily, however, the typical railroad officer of the old school is giving way to one of the newer generation, or he is changing his viewpoint. Of late there is evidence of a growing appreciation of the need of specially trained men for the subordinate official positions and as understudies for the higher places in railroad administration circles. College trained men, and especially those who have taken special courses in graduate schools of business administration, are being sought by the railroads. The Graduate School of Business Administration is having more requisitions for such men than it can fill. There never has been a period since the beginning of railroads when there has been such a need as there is at this time for young men of the highest degree of native ability intelligence and education.
The railroads have emerged from the war period and from two years of Federal operation in a badly crippled condition physically and with a lowered morale in organization. Under the legislation of 1920, private ownership and operation have been given a new lease of life, but their continuance depends upon the results of the next year or two. Under the terms of the new law the railroads must have "honest, efficient, and economical management".
Commission's Return Rate incentive
For the roads as a whole in each territorial group, the interstate Commerce Commission has a mandate from Congress that rates shall be established at a level which will insure a return of to 1-2 to 6 per cent on the value of the properties held for and used in the service of transportation. Rates, both passenger and freight, have been substantially advanced with that end in view. But as the new rates are based on the 5 1-2 to 6 per cent return for the railroads as a whole in each large group they will yield more than the stipulated rate of return for the strong roads and less than that for the weak roads. The strong roads are to divide with the Government the excess over 6 per cent on their value; the weak roads will have no excess to divide--in fact many of them will earn but a small part of 6 per cent. There is, therefore, every incentive to operate at high efficiency so that in the case of the strong roads the excess, even though part of it goes to the Government, will give a substantial return to their stockholders, and in the case of the weak roads so that the return will be large enough to keep the companies in a solvent condition.
In general terms it is correct to say that the railroads have practically exhausted the obvious and simple expedients for increasing efficiency and net revenue. The day of extensive and spectacular achievement is practically passed except in the few instances where the adoption of modern operating methods has been deferred. Extensiveness has given way to intensiveness. The general manager and the superintendent of today have fewer opportunities for reducing expenses than were open to them a decade ago. There is, therefore, an urgent need for young man with broad educational attainments, men who have been taught to think straight and whose intellects have been sharpened to analyze and to approach their problems in the scientific spirit. Such men, upon whose theoretical training has been superimposed the stimulating as well as the sobering effects of practical experience, should give the needed tonic to the larger body of men who have not had the same broadening training.
Practical Experience Helps Trained Men
To those university trained men, practical experience is stimulating because they see so many opportunities for improvement, and it is sobering because they find so many unlooked for obstacles of a practical nature which block or retard the application of theoretically perfect ideas. It may and usually does take several years of practical work to steady the theoretical knowledge, but once the proper balance is attained there can be no doubt that the man with the broadly trained mind is more valuable to a railroad than another man with equal native ability but without the wider vision. A judicious mixture of the two classes is beneficial to both.
There is then, a real need in all departments of railroading, but particularly in the operating department, for educated men of the right type. There is also a fine opportunity for useful and fascinating service. Railroading by its very nature should attract red-blooded men. It is true that the railroads in the past have been slow to recognize that need and to afford that opportunity to the educated man, but their attitude is changing to one of encouragement, as the need of such men in the organization is more generally recognized.