Saturday, April 05, 2008

A gunzel's guide to transport work

So you've been riding trains, trams and buses for half your life and you want to make it your career?

Whether you're 14, 21 or 61, it's not too early (or late) to prepare.

This article has some tips to get you on your way.

Do you really want to?

The first thing is to ask yourself whether it's better to have work that's related to your hobby or to keep them separate.

Many gunzels keep transport as an interest – not as work. Some wouldn't have it any other way - they'd lose interest in the hobby if transport was work. Transport jobs might also include hours and rosters that aren't helpful for that once-in-a-lifetime train movement you wish to photograph.

Others find that their hobby increases interest in their work (and vice versa). For them a job in transport is ideal and they'd work nowhere else.

Think about what you want. If you still want to work in transport, keep reading!

Dos and Don'ts

Even if you're at school and won't be applying for anything for a few years, there is one golden rule when going about your gunzelling:

Don't be a jerk!

Chances are you'll want to get with a train, tram or bus operating company. There's not many of them and you might already know who you want to work for. It's not cool to piss them off as they'll never forget when you go for a job. 'Haven't I seen you before?!'.

Dumb behaviour includes walking where you shouldn't (eg sidings or depots), pinching stuff, rudeness or blocking doorways. Ditto for not having a valid ticket or concession; if you don't pay how can you expect them to pay you? Whinging loudly about trivial stuff no one can change (eg bus livery) says more about you than what you're on about, and none of it's good.

Don't let mates pressure you into stupidity even if you think you're alone. You might still be seen by a signaller or someone on a passing train. Some transport employees are also gunzels - with cameras – and you wouldn't want to be the latest show on Vicsig or YouTube. Saying no to your group is hard but just think about the transport job you'd be missing out on. Walk away if in doubt – go be a bus gunzel and admire the stop.

When talking to bus drivers and station staff respect that their first responsibility (and why they're paid) is to run the service and help customers. Most are not gunzels and don't need to be. So respect the fact that not all will be interested in you seeing 317M, especially if there's others waiting. There's other stuff that isn't exactly wrong – eg asking for 20 copies of the one timetable – but don't do it. And don't crap on about gunzel politics and whose bitching about whom to drivers, OK?

Same applies to internet forums, even if you use a fake screen name. The nastier you are online, the more others will find your real name and/or gossip behind your back. Apart from being civil to other users, good forum etiquette includes not going off-topic, searching before asking questions, not making false claims or laying on the blame after accidents. Passing off other people's photos or websites as your own work is also a no no.

Even if they hardly post, many transport professionals do read the forums and know what's going on. Even guys who are shy in person can be real pricks on the keyboard – it's like they have a split personality. Don't be one of them and wreck your job chances.

With the nasties done, what about the good stuff?

It's pretty much what they tell you at school. You've got to be nice to people, present well and string a sentence together. Good writing is every bit as important as copying down that train consist right and is a must if you want a senior job.

As for school marks, the higher they are the broader the choice. Doing really well will allow you pick more uni courses. If it's something like engineering this can lead to much interesting railway work.

Education and work experience

Education requirements vary widely between 'white collar' and 'blue collar' jobs and between employers.

I do not know of anyone in DOI who doesn't have a university degree. Some have postgraduate qualifications as well.

In contrast there are Year 12 leavers who've risen to senior positions in Connex by age 21 while their student mates are doing the dishes with HECS debt on the side. So generally speaking if it's 'operational' or 'specialist' you don't need a degree (as training is in-house) but if it's more general, policy or marketing (eg operator head offices, DOI or Metlink) then you will probably need a degree.

Any previous work experience will be better than none. If it even vaguely relates to what you're applying for, so much the better. For instance if you want a station host job (which is all about customer service) and you've got some retail experience then you're half way in. Bus drivers will need a clean driving record and again good customer service skills. If you can somehow get a casual job in the industry (eg doing passenger counts) then that also helps.

Promotion may be through internal or external advertising and may follow a period of secondment. The large operators have their own training arrangements. If you're the right person, promotion can be quick; I've seen people get from base level to middle level in two to four years.

What sort of jobs?

The more junior roles are at the 'coal face' serving customers. For example barrier staff, station host or station officer.

Conductors work in V/Line while both Connex and Yarra Trams employ Authorised officers who have to be accredited by the Department of Infrastructure.

Then there are the driving jobs, which in order of training are bus, tram and train. V/Line conductors.

Station officers can progress to become qualified in safeworking and signalling. They either get more senior at stations or can move to jobs elsewhere, such as at timetabling or train control.

There are maintenance jobs at tram/bus depots & Mainco, who does maintenance work for Connex. Engineers are also sought after for infrastructure projects.

Office jobs include marketing and public relations at the operators, Metlink or DOI. DOI also has jobs in policy areas open to graduates.

Because there is a small number of large employers and vacancies are advertised internally, the best approach is to start at a base job, master it and then apply for other positions.

How do you find out about jobs going?

All the usual stuff like newspaper advertisements and websites. There might be notices up at stations, trams or buses advertising vacancies.

Companies may also use recruiting agencies or websites (eg Hoban for Connex or Seek for Metlink).

Another thing you could do is (when they're not busy) ask existing staff (especially if they're younger) what they did to get in and how they like their job.

Is being a gunzel a disadvantage?

Being seen to display an intelligent interest is a benefit. If portrayed the right way your interviewer will see this and will consider your application favourably.

If the interest is seen as either too narrow or too obsessive then it's a turn-off and there is definitely a gunzel stereotype that some will not warm to. Luckily you have control over how you present yourself, and if you have other experience (eg retail) you should push that to make your application stronger.

While there's a few similarities between (say) model railways and the job you're going for, there are more differences when you're dealing with real people and real trains. It's OK to mention a transport interest at the interview. But don't then reach for your photo album and give the interviewer a lecture on Siemens vs X-traps!

Rather you should be more sensitive than normal to conversation flow, answering the question and interpreting cues from the interviewer so you know when to stop. If in doubt mention the interest very briefly and say that you can elaborate if desired.

Know yourself

This is all the standard stuff they (should) teach at school about knowing your strengths, weaknesses and trying to marry them with the job requirements and what they will be asking at the interview.

Some people prefer for their job not to be their hobby, so think about that angle before you decide for sure.

However some special comments apply to gunzels. Some are shy and/or have Aspergers tendencies. If this is part of your personality you need to develop skills in areas such as recognising non-verbal cues from interviewers, refraining from lecturing, knowing when to stop and being tolerably articulate on what they really asked about.


Don't be a jerk

Learn about roles and talk to people

Know yourself

© 2008


Andrew said...

Very interesting Peter. In my experience, tram enthusiasts do not make good tram staff. Not that I am great, but enthusiasts seem to really fall down in the customer service area. There are exceptions of course. Only a bit of an enthusiast, one Agent Fare Evader, who I sure you are familiar with, had excellent customer service skills.

Peter Parker said...

Very true, Andrew.

At least on this side of town the best station hosts I've known have not been gunzels (and usually female also).

I agree re AFE and a few others. Some of the others got in due to their strenths/experience in other areas (eg retail).

I do think today's career path ie retail > host is heaps better than just putting them behind a window as station officer.

I hinted at the importance to match job with the person (eg give the aspergers guy safeworking not customer service) but that's pretty standard stuff so I left that to the career guides / counsellors as the article was getting a bit long.

Glad you liked the article - I'd been sitting on it for several months and couldn't think of somewhere suitable to send it.

Anonymous said...

I think gunzels could offer a lot to rail staffing but they need to think more broadly about the customer experience than a lot on Railpage, anyway, seem to.

The attitude that the customer is wrong and the staff member is right, is very tempting but not always the best attitude to have.

And sitting in a little booth listening to chatter on the radio about the Down Dandenong being late is one thing, it takes a different sort of person to have courage to front the public and explain it.

I see too many staff who think hiding from the customers is OK, and too many on Railpage who agree it is.

Peter Parker said...

Agreed Riccardo and agree about that attitude is present in some gunzels.

Though some gunzels think that the role of station hosts are useless, the quality of the non-gunzels (and gunzels) who've risen through it has been good enough to make it a position worth keeping.

BTW, you're dangerously close to getting me to expound my theory about the 'ideological war' between (i) blue collar gunzels/non-U/Catholic rail workers, (ii) white collar/U/secular bureaucrats, and (iii) white collar/U/secular transport activists but you've probably already covered it somewhere!

Anonymous said...

Like the article, but I have a slight correction to make - SEEK are a job board that purely act as a conduit (admittedly a very lucrative one) between a recruiter and candidates.

I don't know who has Metlink's contract aside from UCMS (who do their own in-house recruitment) run the call centre.

I think also that mention should be made of the blue-collar side of things as well. I know Skilled do a lot in this area and I'd expect both Adecco and Integrated to start to break into that market soon as well.