One of the major challenges faced by our nation's returning veterans is to find a job in the private sector after their military careers. It's certainly not from a lack of leadership or practical and technical skills acquired while serving in the military. Veterans have the career experience and track record to succeed professionally, but they often find it hard "translating" those skills for those who recruit in the private sector. This only highlights the critical need for American industries to support our nation's service members by offering them better assistance when applying for jobs that match their experience and skills.
The rail industry has long recognized how important providing this kind of support is -- not only because we see it as a mark of respect to our nation's servicemen and women, but also because it has proven a successful practice for as long as America's railroads have been in existence. America's freight rail companies understand the connection between skills acquired in military service with those needed to work on the railroads and stand ready to help veterans make transitions into jobs in all areas of the industry.
This week I was proud to represent the rail industry and partner with the White House Joining Forces program to announce that the rail industry expects to hire more than 5,000 veterans this year alone. This recruiting effort represents combined commitments from roughly 500 rail-related companies and organizations, including the nation's freight, inter-city passenger and commuter railroads, as well as supply companies represented by my organization.
These commitments come at a critical time for railroads. The rail industry is particularly focused on hiring skilled workers such as veterans because our companies need to fill jobs being vacated by a wave of anticipated retirements coming in the next couple of years. Roughly 23 percent of the railroad workforce is eligible to retire now through 2015. The freight railroads alone this year plan to hire approximately 15,000 employees, with roughly one-quarter of those new hires likely to be veterans.
This makes perfect sense, of course. After all, many of the qualifications gained in the military, from advanced technical skills to inherent leadership qualities and discipline, make veterans ideal for employment on railroads. It is perhaps for that reason that American veterans and railroads have built a near 200-year-long partnership. Indeed, some of the first graduates from West Point helped engineer and design this country's first railroads. And today, we offer not just jobs, but real careers for veterans, with average salaries and benefits of more than $100,000, with no college degree required.
All this is particularly important given the challenges faced by veterans applying for jobs in the private sector. A recent report by the Center for a New American Security found that 80 percent of private companies considering hiring veterans found difficulties in skills translation.
Not so with railroads. In fact, many of the nation's major railroad companies have dedicated staff to help veterans transition to railroad employment and to sensitize fellow employees to the needs of those former servicemen and women. Today, railroads are partnering with agencies including the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation -- and now the White House -- to help talented veterans make a smoother transition to private sector employment in the freight rail industry.
We don't believe this should be viewed as special. On the contrary, we see this as nothing less than our duty. We could not be prouder of the men and women who have served our nation, and encourage them to continue their service by pursuing a career in the rail industry. This almost 200-year legacy of hiring America's veterans is just getting stronger.
Follow Edward R. Hamberger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AAR_FreightRail