Tardiness, absenteeism and low morale are the sworn enemies of managers the world over and the school transportation industry is no exception. What can we do to build team spirit and make our drivers and other employees want to come to work each day? Terry Van Der Aa, CEO of ATC Transportation in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., thinks the answer lies in putting employees in a leadership role. Van Der Aa acquired an operation with a 14 percent absenteeism rate and reduced that rate to 2 percent in just six months. He also reduced operating costs by 20 percent in the first year. The key? Cross-training. When he took over the operation, 20 employees were working in the office and 40 were driving buses. He removed all office workers except for one manager, whom he entrusted with the task of scheduling the other employees to work in the office in four-hour shifts each week. All workers became trained in every aspect of the operation — dispatching, routing, administration, driving and more. “Being in all roles gave them pride and ownership. They knew the results of their behavior,” notes Van Der Aa. “Drivers said no one had ever told them how money and time were being wasted.” When Van Der Aa came to the operation, 80 percent of costs were going to operating wages. He was able to reduce costs by 20 percent, simply by reducing the absenteeism rate and increasing performance. “Ridership on these routes went up about 40 percent,” adds Van Der Aa. With increased professionalism, the operation flourished.