As the pupil transportation industry contends with the tough economic conditions, many school bus contractors are facing the same challenges, including school bus driver shortages. SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s 2012 Contractor Survey found that 83% of respondents reported some degree of shortage.
In speaking with executives at several school bus companies this year, SBF Managing Editor Kelly Roher learned that this continues to be an issue for some, and others predict that the shortage will continue as the economy recovers. The officials discuss efforts in place at their operations to help retain school bus drivers, and they shed light on other issues impacting their business, including the healthcare reform legislation.
SBF: What are you seeing in your areas of service in terms of school bus driver shortage? Are there any initiatives in place at your operation that you feel have helped to retain bus drivers?
JOHN BENISH: We started to see some minor shortages of drivers this fall. We have been especially hit hard with “underemployed drivers” who began to get back to the kind of jobs they left when the recession started. It is obvious trucking has taken off again, and this has also been tough on getting enough people in the driver seats of school buses. The initiatives we think have helped us quite a bit with retaining drivers are to make sure the current staff is happy and healthy. We feel emphasizing personnel health has been very important. Running contests for perfect attendance during the winter months has also helped us.
John Benish Jr. is chief operating officer for Cook-Illinois Corp. in Oak Forest, Ill.
LINDA BURTWISTLE: We have seen pockets of driver shortage throughout North America. Over the last two years, we have worked to enhance our driver training programs to ensure that each driver feels confident and equipped to handle any situation that may arise. This builds confidence and improves morale. In addition, we are focused on employee welfare and empowerment — providing recognition, leadership opportunities and wellness initiatives across the organization.
JOHN CORRADO: The driver market has not been an issue for us over the last couple of years. I do, however, predict, as the economy recovers, we will see another significant shortage of drivers. This is still a part-time job, and attracting and keeping drivers with the typical weekly wage in our industry will be a big challenge by 2015 at the latest.
PATRICK DEAN: Our success in retaining employees starts with our personal interest in making them successful at their job. We spend many hours ensuring that new drivers and monitors understand our mission and their role in that mission before sending them out on the road.
Nearly two years ago, we implemented a school transportation applicant assessment test to help guide our staff in hiring individuals. This tool, along with our focus on the individual, has reduced turnover and increased the overall success of our identification of drivers and attendants who enjoy and succeed in their positions.
DAVID DUKE: We are seeing bus driver shortages in different parts of the U.S. and Canada. Importantly, the qualities of the person we want to recruit, hire and retain are the same that make them desirable to other employers. So as the economy improves, drivers looking for full-time work are moving to other industries and positions. To counter this, we continue to create and offer employee-centric programs to engage employees, increase self-esteem and morale, and contribute to their overall well-being. Our goal is to engage employees at every level, assuring them that they are a valued member of the organization and that their growth, development and satisfaction is important to us. A few initiatives being implemented are “listen and learn” employee focus groups that allow them to speak openly about any concerns they have, Employee of the Month, the Master Driver program, the Going the Extra Mile program, School Bus Slim Down and other proprietary programs.
DOMENIC GATTO: We do not experience school bus driver shortage in our New York City operations as a result of well-paid full-time driver positions with attractive benefits. We do experience pockets of shortage in some areas. We continually recruit and train driver applicants and provide incentives to retain them.
Domenic Gatto is founder and CEO of Atlantic Express Transportation Group in Staten Island, N.Y.
PATRICK VAUGHAN: As of this date, we have been fortunate to have limited shortages across North America. We credit our low turnover rate to our very experienced management team that recognizes the importance of creating a caring culture, and more importantly, a workplace environment that is focused on being responsive to our employees’ issues.