We take great pride in our safety record, as we should. Children are 13 times safer riding in a school bus than traveling to and from school in any other mode, whether that’s walking, bicycling or riding in an automobile.
The American School Bus Council (ASBC), established late last year by our three national associations and Blue Bird, IC Corporation and Thomas Built Buses, will be emphasizing the safety of the yellow school bus in a nationwide campaign over the next several years so that the rest of America knows our great safety story.
But I think our success in the future will also ride on our ability to sell another story — that pupil transportation can provide a fulfilling career path. According to the ASBC, the U.S. pupil transportation community comprises 625,000 people, mainly drivers, of course, but also many thousands of managers, dispatchers and technicians.
To give you an idea of the size of our industry: If all 625,000 pupil transportation folks made up their own city, it would be the 18th largest in the U.S., right below Baltimore and just ahead of Fort Worth, Texas. That’s a lot of people!
Exodus in the offing?
In the next decade, we’re going to need to replenish this workforce as millions of baby boomers hit retirement age. Many of the industry’s most experienced people — in the office, in the garage and on the road — will be moving on to the next stage of their lives, leaving a gaping hole in bus yards around the country.
We’re all aware of the chronic driver shortage that exists in this industry, and a shortage of trained technicians is also becoming apparent (see Associate Editor Alison Blasko's The Next Shortage Could Be In Your Shop). But we also need to stay in tune with the need for experienced, highly motivated transportation directors to backfill retirements in the years ahead.
At many transportation operations around the country, the top manager is approaching retirement age. Are we ready to replace thousands of transportation directors? Are succession plans in place at your operation? The top leadership position is the most critical in any organization; we need to be grooming the next generation of managers now, before a wave of retirements hits our shores.
Setting our sights higher
Keeping our workforce strong in number is only half the battle, however. We also have to improve the quality of its ranks. We should strive to hire top candidates for every position. And then we should provide them with exceptional training and encourage them to move up in the organization.
It’s essential that transportation programs have the most qualified, top-tier professionals to lead their operations. Typically, pupil transportation managers are drawn from the ranks of existing staff, which makes it critical that school districts and contractors allocate the proper amount of time and energy into the hiring process.
In this way, we can offer great people great careers. We can’t afford to hire people simply to fill positions. We need to find people with commitment, energy and drive. We need to ensure that this industry not only maintains its stellar safety record but improves upon it.