Big demand for school bus drivers in coming years

James Blue
Posted on October 19, 2015

James Blue is general manager of School Bus Fleet.
James Blue is general manager of School Bus Fleet.
If you’ve been reading SBF in recent months, you know that driver shortage is one of the more pressing issues that many school bus operations are facing.

As the economy has improved, it has become harder to attract enough people to drive yellow buses, which often provides lower pay than jobs driving other types of large vehicles (see my editorial in our July 2015 issue).

Now, projections from the feds show that openings for school bus drivers will continue to be one of the nation’s top transportation workforce needs in coming years.

The report, titled “Strengthening Skills Training and Career Pathways Across the Transportation Industry,” was jointly released by the U.S. departments of Education, Transportation and Labor in late August (you can access the full report here). It covers various sectors of the transportation industry, including some interesting forecasts related to the school transportation workforce.

Perhaps the most interesting finding is that over a 10-year period (2012 to 2022), the second-highest number of transportation job openings will be for school or special client bus drivers, projected at 330,699 openings. (Special client bus drivers — those who transport, for example, the elderly or people with disabilities — are categorized with school bus drivers in the government’s labor statistics.)

The need for school or special client bus drivers is second only to that for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, which will have a projected 1,225,280 openings over the 10-year period.

The report also shows a big demand for bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists, with a projected 86,850 job openings over the 10-year period.

These job opening projections account for separations (occupational transfers, retirement, etc.) and industry growth.

Another interesting finding in the report is the age distribution in the transportation workforce. For the broad sector of transit and ground passenger transportation (which includes school transportation, transit, charter, taxi service and others), the age distribution is:

• Under 25: 4%
• 25-44: 33%
• 45-54: 28%
• 55-64: 23%
• 65+: 12%

As the report notes, “With 63% of the workers in transit and ground passenger transportation above age 45, retirement will loom large in the future.”

We know from our own coverage of the pupil transportation industry that the workforce has had an influx of retirements in recent years, and that includes not just school bus drivers but management positions as well.

All of this points to the importance of ongoing recruitment efforts as well as career advancement opportunities. The more senior managers in our industry need to be identifying and mentoring the next generation of leaders, imparting their knowledge so that it won’t be lost when they retire.

As the federal report shows, the demand for school transportation professionals will stay strong in coming years. It’s up to all of you to fill those positions with dedicated and well-trained people.

Related Topics: driver recruitment/retention, driver shortage

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