First Student holds job fairs and other recruiting events to attract candidates for open positions from the local community.
Without a doubt, the economic changes the job market has undergone over the past few years have had an impact on the number of people who are out of work and looking for new employment.
In March, the state with the highest unemployment rate was Michigan, at 14 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nevada, Rhode Island, California and Florida rounded out the top five, at 13.4, 12.6, 12.6 and 12.3 percent, respectively.
For school transportation operations, an uptick in unemployment may cause a corresponding uptick in applications for the job of school bus driver, in effect eliminating driver shortages. Despite having a larger pool of applicants to hire from, experts say this is no time to relax hiring standards and rush to fill open positions.
“With more people out of work, you would think the favor turns in the direction of the employer,” says Scott Prewett, chief technology officer for Exaktime. “The question becomes, how do I weed out the boat loads of applicants to get the one or two that I need to hire for the positions I need to fill?”
First Student’s director of recruiting, Frank Steele, describes the hiring process as filling the top end of a funnel and distilling the initial batch of candidates down to find the highest-quality people. “In the current recruiting climate, we have had an easier time in filling the top end of the funnel,” he says. “However, the same challenges remain that are consistent through any economic term. It’s a very special and unique skill set to be a good school bus driver. To find those people, the quality of people we insist on hiring, that’s the challenge, and that’s relatively consistent.”
Putting out feelers
Jeff Walker, transportation services manager at Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District in Middleton, Wis., says that in his experience, classified ads are no longer the most effective way to advertise open positions. “They are so expensive, and I don’t feel that I get the application pool for what I pay for the ad,” he says. “Instead, I try to use word-of-mouth for recruiting.”
Walker keeps his eyes open for good candidates when he’s out and about. “There have been a number of times that I’ve run into someone who I thought may make a great bus driver, and I’ll ask them if they’ve ever thought about being a school bus driver,” he says. “Many are interested when I tell them what the pay, benefits and flexible hours are.” He also focuses his efforts on students at the nearby university. “I especially encourage the education majors because it looks excellent on their resumes,” he says.
Steele says posting ads with the major job search Websites can gather a large number of candidates, but casting a wide net online does not necessarily result in a larger number of qualified applicants. “We get a lot of candidates, but it seems like we have this big mass and then we get through this distillation process and come out with one or two,” he says.
For agencies that have the manpower to cull through large numbers of incoming resumes, Internet classifieds are a sure source of a high volume of responses. For smaller operations, the flood of applications may be overwhelming and, in the end, unnecessary.
First Student is beginning to look at the realm of social media for publicizing open positions and networking with candidates. For an employer who maintains a Facebook or LinkedIn page just for personal use, posting a brief notice of an open job could spark interest from an online contact.
Steele says First Student also hosts job fairs, open houses and live radio broadcasts from their location facilities. During the on-air events, area residents are invited to come fill out applications and be interviewed for open positions.
Recruiting from within
While external advertising is often necessary, employers also recommend looking to internal personnel for referrals. “There’s the old saying in recruiting that great people know great people,” Steele says, “so what better place to go than to your current employee base?”
“They can tell the story better than anybody,” says Bridget Lindsay, field recruiting manager for First Student.
Prewett suggests providing an incentive for referrals and making that incentive significant enough to prompt employees to take the time to think seriously of potential candidates. Breaking the incentive into two parts — one payment to the referring employee on the hire date and a second payment on the one-year anniversary of the hire — can also ensure a good hire.
“They’re incentivized both to make a good referral but also have a good referral that sticks,” he says. “You’re using your good employees and their innate understanding of the job as they flip through the Rolodex in their heads. You can make the incentive offer to everybody, and at the same time you’re paying the most attention to your best employees’ recommendations. It is such a powerful tool, especially when you consider the high cost of getting rid of a bad employee. If you look at the emotional time, the managerial time, the time that’s required going through a formal correction process, the cost for going through the process of getting rid of someone who is a bad hire, it’s kind of staggering. A lot of times, it’s equal to twice an annual salary for that person.”
Walker says that his district “has a lot to offer its drivers, and I encourage drivers to talk to other drivers when they are on field trips and try to get them to apply. Plus, our drivers get a finders fee for a successful recruit.”