Patrick Dean, vice president of business development at family-owned Dean Transportation in Lansing, Michigan, grew up in the world of the yellow bus. He started in the family business after college, focusing on special projects in operations, fleet services, accounting, and business development.
Since 2009, he has worked with superintendents and school boards to evaluate partnerships with the company. (The company occupies the No. 11 spot on School Bus Fleet’s 2019 Top Contractors list.) He also holds school bus driving endorsements.
In this interview with SBF, Dean shares how Dean Transportation is investing in innovative training that utilizes virtual reality (VR) technology and addresses trauma awareness, and is working to mitigate the driver shortage by offering ongoing professional development.
1. How did you get your start in pupil transportation?
Like many professionals in our industry, I grew up in school transportation. My father, Kellie Dean, left a special education teaching position to join a special education student transportation company when I was 2 years old. My earliest memories are of riding with my dad to pick up new school buses at the factory and transporting athletes to the Special Olympics summer games. I have appreciated the strength and passion of the student transportation industry throughout the country for my entire life.
2. Dean Transportation has been using VR technology as part of the training curriculum for drivers and attendants. What benefits have you discovered?
Productive and instructive industry training is a core tenet of our operation. Every day we are looking for ways to engage our drivers and staff in meaningful professional development. In 2017, we piloted the use of VR technology to provide drivers with a lifelike immersion in common school bus situations. During classroom training, it is difficult to simulate the stress drivers and attendants experience on the road.
Through the use of VR technology, we discovered innovative ways for employees to have a more realistic sensory experience and gain more empathy for the feelings and behaviors of their young passengers.
3. Driver shortage is a nationwide issue. How is Dean Transportation handling it?
This issue is a challenge and will continue to be one for our industry and many others. We are thoughtful in our commitment to growing our employees internally through initial training, ongoing professional development, and paths to promotion.
Throughout our organization, we have made strong efforts to demonstrate how much we value and appreciate our staff. This is a core value of our family business culture, which is rooted in longevity and retention. We believe driving or attending on a school bus is truly a vocation and we focus on recognizing the professional service each of our team members provides.
We continually listen to our team and understand what the company can offer to help each person individually and professionally.
We also continue to recruit “heroes” who want to make a difference in their community as a transportation professional and be part of our transportation family. This commitment has helped recruit strong candidates and increase retention.
4. Michigan has committed one-fifth of its Volkswagen settlement funds to electric and new diesel school buses. Has Dean Transportation applied for a portion of the funds, and if so, for what fuel types?
We are proud that the state of Michigan and the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT) have taken a national leadership role in the testing and implementation of electric school buses. Several of our partner school districts are in the process of submitting applications for electric and propane vehicles. We plan to support them in their applications and continue supporting MAPT’s ongoing efforts to expand the conversation on electric school buses in Michigan.
5. Any new innovations or initiatives from Dean Transportation that you would like to share?
This year we have furthered a strategic partnership with the Autism Alliance of Michigan to deliver training on communicating with students with autism. We have also invested in trauma and adverse childhood experience (ACE) awareness training. The ACE program helps our team understand the impact trauma has on students in a school setting and how to respond effectively.
Dean is also investing heavily in artificial intelligence-based platforms to leverage operations and vehicle data. We believe these elements will have a significant impact on our industry as emerging technologies are accepted over the coming decade.