The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 7 (November 1, 1927)
The Railway Service. — Qualifications And Opportunities. — Making The Choice
The Railway Service.
Qualifications And Opportunities.
Making The Choice.
The following article, written by a Railway officer for the Dunedin “Star,” should prove interesting to readers of the “N. Z. R. Magazine”:—
One of the outstanding incidents in a man's life and one requiring serious contemplation is the choice of his calling. The present large scale of unemployment and trade depression emphasies the value of continuous occupation to those less favourably situated in respect of wealth, and those following professional callings seem Fortune's favourites.
Apart from the material aspect, the choice of the calling is pre-eminently important from the fact that it determines environment, and therefore influences the intellectual side of life. There are many professions from which to choose; many are old-established, and generally looked upon as providing substance and respectability, others are new and steadily establishing their prestige. Before the prestige of a profession is established it is necessary that it should reach a state of usefulness to society from which it derives popularity, the generally accepted hall-mark being the recognition of the ability and service of its members by State benefits and honours. Of the professions newly established is the railway profession, the opportunities and possibilities of which it is the purpose of this article to discuss. The transport revolution brought it into being, and its great sphere of usefulness has established it in the public favour.
Development of the Service.
It is but a few years since transport by rail was little superior to that provided by an elementary carrying concern, and its administration did not call for specialised talent, those engaged in its business being principally unskilled labourers. The swift development of the railway system and the consequent development of the various classes of traffic brought many problems to the owners and-as competition grew-it became increasingly necessary that the railway servant should be specially trained. The general employment of casual labour thus became impracticable.
The present stage of railway transportation finds highly developed systems vieing with each other in open competition for the carriage of goods and passengers, and yet collectively co-operating in the common cause of arresting and defeating the road motor competition which is menacing the very existence of the rail.
This complex situation must needs produce a levelling of the rates and charges. The inevitable curtailment of revenue necessitates a strict analysis of the cost of production, which is a prime factor in the rate fixing. To deal effectively with such conditions the railway administrator requires a deep technical knowledge based upon long experience and his previously simple calling has emerged into an interesting and engrossing profession.
In many respects the railway system of New Zealand is not comparable with the systems of Europe and America. For many years it enjoyed a freedom from competition which was conducive to monopoly conditions, but for its interests being vested in the people whom it was primarily designed to serve; but the advent of the petrol-propelled vehicle and the improvement of road services had a very appreciable effect upon its conduct and organisation. With its fifty millions of capital, it was in danger of becoming a sterile liability upon the State; but, recovering from the first shock of competition, it threw off its yoke of conversatism, adopted up-to-date business methods, and energised its resources until it can now be regarded as a prime factor in the business organisations of the country. It is certainly a progressive element in New Zealand commerce, and has attained enviable prestige by virtue of its general efficiency.
The administrative branch of the service is attracting a good type of youth with a secondary education; the favourable conditions of service and the interesting nature of the railway calling appeal to the imaginative youngster desiring scope for the expression of his ability, and not impervious to the romance of the railroad life. Applicants for the administrative branch require to be between the ages of fifteen and eighteen years, and the exclusion of older lads ensures that the special training is commenced at an early age, and that when page 25 the member reaches an age of responsibility he has completed his training in the rudiments of railway working.
Opportunities for Advancement.
When a lad is accepted he serves a probationary period of three years, during which he must pass certain prescribed examinations and show himself well fitted generally for the profession; he then receives his cadetship, and from this rank graduates-according to his merits-to the various positions in his particular department. A cadet in the traffic branch graduates to clerk, station master, and to the higher administrative positions in district offices, those more fortunate and able rising to district manager, superintendent, and the higher controlling authoritative positions immediately subordinate to the central authority, the Railway Board.
Clerical cadets in the other branches have similar opportunities, whilst cadets joining the technical branches, engineering, etc., quickly rise to the position of draughtsmen, and, provided they possess the necessary qualifications, graduate as engineers. The essential entrance qualification to the technical branches is the matriculation examination.
Advantages of Railway Profession.
The railway profession is now held to possess many advantages which are not enjoyed by the other professions open to those who do not hold the higher educational qualifications; the salaries are substantial and likely to improve as the service develops; the work is varied and instructive; the conditions of employment afford generous concessions, and ultimately the retiring allowances and privileges leave little to be desired.
While private employment may offer greater rewards for individual brilliancy and merit, its paths of advancement are frequently tedious and unsound; the railway service provides a steady progress, and the average man is assured of a competent income supplemented by useful privileges.
Not the least important feature of the service is its pleasant associations; there is a band of genuine friendship among its members which outlasts the term of service; the lure of the open road gets into the blood and imbues its associates with a desire to answer its insistent call.