Employer Connections – Watco Companies

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To give you some insight into the kinds of companies that recruit TWS graduates, we spoke with Olivia Grosdidier, Senior Recruiter with Watco Companies in Pittsburg, Kansas. 

Thanks for your time, Olivia. Please tell us a little about your own background.

I have been with Watco for about two and a half years, and this is my first HR role. I went to school for psychology. I was planning a career in childhood development, potentially as a therapist or psychologist, but I’ve found myself in the human resources world.

Does a background in psychology help in the recruitment and HR world?

It does help, especially as most of what I do is over the phone. It helps to know what cues to pick up on!

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Interesting! Please give us an overview of Watco Companies. 

In a nutshell, we are a transportation company. We are in the business of moving goods for customers. We offer transportation solutions through four separate divisions; they include our Transportation division, which is the 41 short line railroads that we own and operate. Our second division is Terminals & Ports; those are locations where we take goods off one form of transportation and put them onto another. Our third division is Supply Chain; that’s the third party logistics side where we have great brokers. The fourth division is Mechanical; it’s related to Transportation because we bring in rail cars for updates and repairs, and get them back on the tracks. 

So which divisions do you recruit welders for? 

Primarily the Mechanical and Transportation divisions. 

How long has the relationship between Watco and TWS been in place? 

We just connected with the Houston campus in May. We had a large hiring event in Cypress, Texas. We needed to hire 27 team members. Jakis, with the Houston campus career services team, saw our advert for the event and reached out. He asked about the positions we had open, and if TWS students were welcome to attend. As it turned out, the majority of welders we interviewed were students or graduates of Tulsa Welding School.       

How many TWS grads have you hired this year?

I don’t know exactly, but I would say probably half a dozen. 

What is your recruitment process?

We collect applications just like everybody else. But we focus on finding the right culture fit–people who are going to work well within the team. We go through a pre-screen process. I call applicants directly and complete a brief phone interview with them. I then send my notes to the managers; using those notes, the managers decide who they will bring in for in-person interviews. They see if the person will be a good fit for the work and if they will mesh well with our team. If we think we’ve found the right person, we make an offer. 

No initial weld test?

We typically don’t do a complete welding assessment until after 90 days employment. We like to take those with basic welding skills and develop them. Working on rail cars is so specific. There are so many regulations that you have to know. The only way to know them is to have that hands-on experience. So we look for those with welding skills or a basic mechanical background that we can develop. The best welder isn’t always the best candidate for us.

So what position might a Tulsa graduate be offered if they were to get hired on?

It depends on their particular skill set. Typically graduates from Tulsa Welding School will start as a railcar repairman. Their own skill set will determine if we initially classify them as a non-welder or welder. If their welding skills are very strong, we go ahead and classify them as a welder. If not, we help  develop them into the welder we need. 

What makes TWS graduates stand out when you are looking to recruit?

At the hiring event, we noticed that many Tulsa students were looking for a career, not a job. That was a very strong positive. We don’t want people who will sit in a job for two months and leave. With today’s job market, many employers get a lot of job hoppers. We want to avoid that. 

They were all also very well prepared. It showed that their instructor wanted them to succeed. Just taking that initiative to know what the job is, what the company does, and then demonstrating that they wanted to build a career with us–those elements really stood out.

You mentioned the one hiring event in May. Are you always looking for welders?

I’d say we hire about every two months; it’s pretty consistent throughout the year. I stay in contact with TWS about when we are hiring, for what positions, and when we put a hold on hiring. We stay in touch. 

Do you have a formal training program for new hires?

We have a specific safety program, then it’s job shadowing and on-the-job hands-on training. Every day is different when working on rail cars, and every car has a different story, so it’s day by day development.

Do you have an example of a TWS graduate who has moved up through the ranks?

Not yet, but we do have a guy who is working in the railcar repair shop right now. He is currently a non-welder, but in the next 30 days, we will be honing his welding skills to give him a weld assessment. If successful, he will move into railcar repairman welder position. He’s been great. He always shows up for work, has a great work ethic, and a very positive attitude and outlook. When this position became available, he submitted an internal application because he wanted to progress. We have been developing that progression with him, making sure he gets where he wants to go. That’s the attitude we look for. 

It sounds like the kind of company where people stay 20+ years? Do you have a lot of lifers?

Watco CompaniesOh yes, it is, and we do. That’s a huge thing for us, making sure we offer career development. We have a lot of seniority across the board.

You must offer good benefits and career opportunities to have people stay that long?

We want people to develop their careers with us. We want to invest in them, so they continue to invest their time in us. We’ve got a full benefits package – medical, vision, dental – and we also have company-given life insurance, as well as short-term disability insurance. We have a 401k program where Watco will match 50% of the 10% that you put in. Finally, let’s say you get hired as a welder in our Transportation division. Typically, that would be a Track Maintenance position. If you have a railroad position like that, then you would receive Railroad Retirement, which is very beneficial!

Do you hire many women welders?

We try to, yes. Our industry in general is so male-dominated. We need more women. I’m not saying we give preference to female applicants, but I get excited personally when I see a great female candidate. I encourage any female welder that wants to apply to do so. We are more than willing to go through the consideration process, and bring you on. 

What advice do you have for students to be successful at TWS, and at Watco? 

At school, take it day by day, and always remember that you will have a better tomorrow. What you’re doing right now is working hard toward a career that will give you more free time and financial stability in the future. Just grind on, sacrifice now, and know that you’re giving yourself a better future.

At Watco, it’s all about being part of a team. That’s what we look for in our people. Who is going to be the best fit? Who is hungry to learn something new? Who wants to take on the responsibility of working in a very safety-sensitive environment? Watco is constantly changing. We need people who are flexible, driven and self motivated. Those qualities will get you a long way here. It’s not necessarily the best welder at Tulsa Welding School that will end up working at Watco, it’s the person who is the best fit.

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