Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2021) and Montreal's Top Employers (2021):
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 12, 2020)
Here are some of the reasons why Canadian National Railway was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2021) and Montreal's Top Employers (2021):
- CN encourages lifelong learning with tuition subsidies of up to $4,000 for courses taken with external educators -- additionally, the organization offers a variety of in-house training options, including apprenticeships, a management trainee program for university graduates, and leadership training for high-potential employees
- CN operates the impressive employee and pensioner-run Community Fund, which has raised more than $18.5-million over the past decade for Canadian charities supporting health and research, community well-being, children and humanitarian aid concerns -- and also manages the Railroaders in the Community program to provide grants to charitable organizations where employees, their families, and retirees volunteer their time
- CN cultivates an ownership mentality through a share purchase plan, available to all employees, and helps employees plan for life after work through the security of a defined benefit pension plan
The drive for safety keeps everyone on track at CN
At Canadian National Railway, safety is a core value and an integral component of every employee’s role, including that of Raman Boparai in the Montréal-based company’s Brampton, Ont., office.
“A railroad is composed of many complex ecosystems, both groups of people and technology. For our employees on the trains, trucks, tracks and cranes, there are no compromises when it comes to safety,” says Boparai, director of optimization and innovation.
The annual Rail Safety Week campaign is one example of how CN promotes safety with its employees, neighbours, customers and partners, whether through a podcast or by partnering with schools and local government. The aim is to create more community awareness about best safety practices around crossings, tracks and trains.
An industrial engineer with experience in the transportation and airline industries, Boparai is passionate about end-to-end supply chains. “I’m always trying to systematically improve things,” he says. “My role at CN is the perfect opportunity to pursue that passion.”
Currently Boparai is overseeing the multi-year Smart Terminal Program, which will enhance the capacity of CN’s 20-plus North American terminals and improve customer service. “We’ll be transforming our terminals’ computers and making them state-ofthe-art. Collaboration is crucial right from the top.”
Teammates include CN departments such as IT and finance, as well as external vendors and consultants. “Everyone is part of this huge transformation in taking our company to the next level,” says Boparai. “I love solving operational problems so we have smooth processes and satisfied customers.”
Those customers could range from a big-box store picking up 100 containers each week from a CN terminal to a much smaller business collecting one container a week. “We appreciate every one of our customers and get to know their business so we can meet their unique needs,” says Boparai.
To offset the intensity of his workdays, Boparai has taken part in CN’s company-wide Wellness Challenge, tracking his steps throughout the day (his team didn’t win, but he still had fun). “I love working here. I feel this is where I belong to do all of the things I like to do.”
Quinn Zhang, manager of analytics and optimization, joined CN in 2018 and is also based in Brampton. Originally from China, she learned of CN’s reputation as an internationally regarded railway company while earning a master’s degree in applied science at the University of Windsor. “The railway industry is essential to the Canadian and global economy, and I’m proud to contribute not only to customer excellence but also to the economy.”
For Zhang, her customers are both internal, in the form of the operations team, and external, such as truckers who pick up containers at the terminal. Part of her job is to tackle operational problems and bottlenecks using state-of-the-art tools and techniques. For example, if it takes a trucker longer than normal to locate a container, she and her team do a deep dive into the data to discover why.
As much as Zhang enjoys her work, she also applauds CN’s inclusive culture and growth opportunities. “I’ve had one promotion so far, and I have a mentor and management support to create my own career path. I’m learning all the time, and I appreciate receiving meaningful input into which direction I should be going.”
Both Boparai and Zhang have been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a seamless transition thanks to new communications software and headsets. And although they miss seeing their co-workers in person, they still feel connected to them – and to the bigger picture. “No matter where we’re working, we’re all focused on advancing CN,” says Boparai.
Supporting a sustainable career track at CN
In 1997, when Chantale Després was invited to interview for a management position at Montréal-based Canadian National Railway, she wasn’t looking for a new job or to leave Moncton. But after CN flew her to Montréal to discuss the role, she couldn’t refuse.
“I met my future manager, who was warm and passionate,” says Després, now CN’s director of sustainability. “She was also a senior executive in a male-dominated industry. I admired her right away and saw that there would be opportunities for me to learn from her.”
Hired to run CN’s customer-satisfaction survey program, Després was soon promoted to director of marketing, communications and customer value. After she had spent a decade in that role, CN started getting questions from its freight customers about its sustainability practices and carbon emissions. The company didn’t have comprehensive sustainability policies then.
In 2007, Després attended a life-changing climate-change workshop in Montréal led by Al Gore. “I went home and wrote my own job description, making the case for change,” she says. “I’ve carved my own path by following my passion and collaborating with key stakeholders.”
In 2012, Després made an impression on Bikram Singh Sidhu, an intern in CN’s sustainability office who was studying ecology at Concordia University. After finishing his degree, he moved home to India to resume his career there, but he soon returned to Canada – and to CN, as coordinator of sustainability employee engagement.
“I knew I’d be joining a great team, with Chantale as a mentor,” he says. “It’s important that I work with people who are passionate about what they do.” Sidhu was part of the team’s launch of the EcoConnexions employee-engagement program, which aims to conserve energy, reduce waste and improve sustainability practices at CN’s railyards and offices.
Most of the office staff, including Sidhu, are working remotely due to COVID-19. However, the trains have never stopped moving and “our front line employees are out there keeping the economy going,” says Després. “Our priority has been balancing business with keeping all employees safe.”
Sidhu misses seeing his co-workers in person but enjoys leveraging technology to connect virtually. When it was safe to do so with proper safety protocols, he began taking weekly tennis lessons with a teammate. “CN’s efforts to connect us help morale and make us feel more valued – and that’s the best way to engage people.”