The unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent in January, the lowest it has been since July 2001. After several years of favoring employers, the pendulum is swinging back in favor of employees. As most of you know, this is not a positive development for school transportation programs trying to hire and keep good bus drivers.
The bus driver shortage tends to be cyclical, like the economy, but varies according to region. Some school districts and contractors have great luck in finding qualified drivers, while others have a much tougher time recruiting good prospects. The reasons can be many. In some cases, candidates are few because the schools are located in an affluent area, where few residents want or need a bus-driving position. In other cases, there are many “better” jobs (full time, higher paying) available in the area, putting school bus operators at a hiring disadvantage.
Hoist the hiring flag. . .
In any case, it’s important that school districts and contractors begin to position themselves as a desirable place for prospective school bus drivers to work. How do they accomplish this? First, they should promote their achievements in the area of safety, efficiency and customer service. Take advantage of the school district newsletter and Website to promote your efforts. When something positive happens (e.g., driver rescues choking child, transportation department honored by industry magazine), place a call to the local newspaper(s) and interest an editor in a feature story.
In addition, school bus operators need to enhance the public image of their bus drivers in every possible way. Creating a positive image of bus drivers helps to overcome any psychological hurdles that candidates might need to clear. Managing Editor Thomas McMahon has a few suggestions in this area. Please take a few minutes to read his article, "Promoting the Good Work of Your Drivers." I think you’ll come away with some interesting ideas.
Also, to better understand the mindset of your current driver corps, study the research compiled by Associate Editor Albert Neal in his article, “Stop-Arm Violators Are Top Challenge for Drivers.” Albert’s findings are enlightening. For example, he discovered that less than half of drivers say that “better pay/benefits” is the most important to making their jobs more satisfying. The others are more interested in getting feedback and recognition, as well as hands-on support from their supervisors and career development.
. . . but don’t let your guard down
Yes, it’s important to have a full complement of drivers and substitutes. Without that cushion, office and maintenance staff members are often called upon to cover routes when they should be handling their own responsibilities. That’s not just inefficient, it’s dangerous.
Drivers make up the largest personnel segment of our industry. They perform the most critical tasks. More than anyone on your staff, they determine the success of your operation. While it’s important to keep your vacancies to a minimum, it’s also critical that you screen any candidates carefully and only hire those who will proudly represent your operation in the community.
With the jobless rate heading south, you could have a driver shortage in your future. Don’t let it sneak up on you. Start now by enhancing your image as an employer and the image of your employees.