We often refer to the approximately 23 million children who ride yellow buses as "our most precious cargo." It's a descriptive phrase, and it gets the point across. At the same time, it indirectly discounts the worth of the bus driver, whom we could broadly describe as "the person on the bus who is not our most precious cargo." I don't mean to be glib, but I think the school transportation industry and the community at large need to raise their estimation of bus drivers. They do, after all, haul the "precious cargo" to its destinations of school and home. And, with the driver shortage reaching desperate levels in many parts of the country, we need to find ways to keep them in the driver's seat. To that end, Senior Editor Gary Luster offers several ideas on how you can improve the job satisfaction of your drivers (see "Staying Power," Feb. 1999). I'd like to offer my own advice on dealing with the driver shortage. Some of this is drawn from my experience in the publishing world, which has its own healthy share of turnover.
Separate good, bad turnover
First off, expect - and welcome - some driver turnover. As you know, not everyone is cut out to be a school bus driver. It may take a year on the job before they make this discovery. Or it may only take three weeks. This type of turnover is inevitable and happens at every job. In publishing, we occasionally hire people who love the idea of working for a magazine - until they're faced with the constant stream of deadlines, each more intense than the last. After several months of these deadlines, these starry-eyed individuals decide to go back to school to get that degree in accounting or history or math. Like the aforementioned bus drivers, they weren't right for the job. Losing them is not pleasant, with all the training we've invested. But their departure was a foregone conclusion. We have to accept that. The ones you don't want to lose are the individuals who are cut out to be bus drivers. They love children. They're good behind the wheel. They don't mind the split shifts or the relatively low pay (the industry average is about $11.50 an hour). They show up on time and are rarely sick. But, for some reason, they decide to move on. Which brings me to my main point: You need to find out why these people are leaving. Before they go, bring them into your office and close the door. Wish them well in their future endeavors, but don't let them leave until they tell you why they're not satisfied with the job. It could be a money issue, over which you have limited control. Or it may be that the family is relocating, over which you have no control. But it also may be a dissatisfaction with the working conditions, which you can control.
Uncover any dissatisfaction
Maybe a supervisor is too critical or a mechanic won't listen to complaints about the brakes. Or maybe the driver just needed more training in student management. It could be that the driver was seeking a career, but saw no defined path for advancement. You need to know these things if you want to keep the good ones. In this job market, you can't afford to lose marginal drivers, much less the ones who have superior skills and a heads-up attitude. In his article, Gary makes a good point about the importance of showing your appreciation for your drivers. It's fine to lead by example, but it's even better to praise your troops when they deserve it. You'd be surprised how much that bolsters morale and makes your operation a better place to work.