Will Someone Be Ready to Fill Your Shoes?

James Blue
Posted on March 8, 2017
Many industry stalwarts have retired in the past year, including Derek Graham, the veteran state director in North Carolina, shown right. He retired in February.
Many industry stalwarts have retired in the past year, including Derek Graham, the veteran state director in North Carolina, shown right. He retired in February.

There has been a wave of longtime industry leaders retiring recently, and these developments always raise the question “Who will fill their shoes?”

Of course, it’s never an easy task to try to replace someone who has decades of experience and a trove of knowledge about pupil transportation. Derek Graham is one such seasoned leader. The veteran state director in North Carolina stepped down at the end of February.

Graham follows Arkansas state director Mike Simmons, who retired at the end of December. Our 2016 Administrator of the Year, Ingrid Reitano, also retired from her district position last year.

I could go on listing more industry stalwarts who have retired in the past year or so, but if you’ve been reading our magazine and newsletters, you’re already aware of the trend.

Fortunately for the rest of us, some of these leaders will stay involved in pupil transportation in some capacity, like as a consultant or a part-time trainer. Their expertise and insights will continue to be vital resources for the next generation of leaders.

Still, these retirements remind us of the need to recruit and prepare this next generation of leaders, ideally before the veterans head into retirement. A great example of that notion came at West County Transportation Agency in Santa Rosa, California. We reported last year that the agency hired a transitional executive director, Chad Barksdale, to work with the agency’s longtime executive director, Mike Rea, for a year of overlap before Rea retired at the end of February.

That type of lengthy transition period isn’t always possible, but transportation directors can always be looking within their own ranks to groom their eventual replacement. With that in mind, it’s important to provide career advancement and professional development opportunities for staff members.

In 2015, we reported that Patty Riviello of The Trans Group won the Thomas Built Buses Continuing Education Award at the National School Transportation Association’s annual meeting. Riviello joined the New York contracting company as a school bus driver in 1987 and rose through the ranks to become vice president of human resources. When she won the Continuing Education Award, she had begun working toward a master’s degree in human resource management at Stony Brook University.

There are also educational tracks to pursue within our industry. For example, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) offers such opportunities as the Professional Development Series, the Leading Every Day Initiative, and a professional certification program. Fifteen people earned NAPT certification in 2016, which ties in with one of the association’s strategic goals: to increase the number of certified pupil transportation professionals.

As you consider your own goals and those for your staff for 2017, the pursuit of a certification or other educational program could be a valuable investment for your operation. It may even help prepare one of your people to fill your shoes when you’re ready to retire.

James Blue General Manager
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