Riding the rails: A national railroad contractor job analysis

Andrew G Martin, Purdue University


The National Railroad Contractors Association (NRCA) consists of five member companies that perform vegetation control services for the nation's railroads. Railroad vegetation control operators are legally obligated to certify, by written examination, as commercial pesticide applicators in every state in which they make applications. In order to simplify the testing process for their employees, the NRCA member companies, in collaboration with Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service and the Office of the Indiana State Chemist (Indiana's pesticide regulatory agency), conduct an annual training and testing program under a process acceptable to the majority of states in which the companies do business. However, the current certification test was developed without benefit of a comprehensive job analysis. The NRCA member companies are headquartered substantial distances from one another, they meet infrequently, and their employees are on the road for extended periods throughout the year, rendering most job analysis methods problematic. This study sought to develop a method tailored to meet these constraints based on operator interviews and an iterative survey process: the Delphi technique. Ten vegetation control operators were interviewed to elicit information about job tasks and the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for competent task performance. Transcript analysis produced a preliminary draft of 119 job tasks organized into five functions. Twenty-seven operator knowledge, skills, and abilities were identified. After assembly of the preliminary draft of tasks and knowledge, skills, and abilities, 12 NRCA member company supervisors were contacted to participate as panelists in a Delphi mail survey. Two survey rounds resulted in a finalized list consisting of 103 tasks prioritized according to importance and 27 knowledge, skill, and ability statements ranked also according to importance. The response rate for both Delphi rounds was 100 percent. Analyst time, from first interview to finished analysis required 170 hours. Survey time entailed 11 weeks from mailing date of round one to receipt of all responses from round two. The Delphi-based job analysis method was determined to be efficient and well suited to describing a unique occupation.




Peters, Purdue University.

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