We often focus on school buses and the drivers and transportation personnel who make them run, but technicians don’t come up as often as perhaps they should in our coverage. Without our maintenance experts, we would have no buses to transport students.
And keeping a sufficient number of them is apparently growing more challenging. An update to a recent report from nonprofit TechForce Foundation in 2018 has found that an increasing demand for professional automotive technicians is dovetailing with a declining supply of new technicians entering the industry. This is happening despite the industry’s efforts to tackle the issue and a small bump in new post-secondary degrees and certificates available for future diesel technicians.
Exacerbating the shortage is not only a need for more new technicians, but for those who are well-versed in new technologies, such as the type involved in maintaining electric school buses. In our story on a planned electric school bus training program, Tim Shannon, director of transportation for Twin Rivers Unified School District (USD) in McClellan Park, California, notes that the lack of familiarity with electric bus maintenance, as that vehicle option becomes more popular, could cause the shortage to grow even more dire.
In response, he is working with a local college, municipal agencies, a dealership, and an electric school bus manufacturer to organize training for what will become an electric school bus repair program for high school students at his district to take for college credit. Students will also have access to The Lion Electric Co.’s new Experience Center located nearby in Sacramento, so they can get more hands-on experience with the buses.
Jason Johnson, the president of the New York Head Mechanics Association, agrees that we are at a point where training more technicians in general is critical, and said that pupil transporters throughout the state contend with a shortage.
“As retirements hit us in stages, we find it hard to replace [technicians],” Johnson, who is also the equipment service manager at Horseheads (N.Y.) Central School District, said in the 5 Questions department of our March issue. He added that along with a shortage of qualified candidates, ever-changing technology has become “our biggest battle,” and that is driving him and other association members to ensure all technicians in the state get the training they need.
Meanwhile, in our annual maintenance survey report, we saw a slight rise in the ratio of buses to technician from last year, inching up to 21 from 20. Additionally, to help mitigate driver shortage, technicians sometimes get behind the wheel, putting even more work on their plate. At about half of the operations we surveyed, technicians have had to cover a route often or even daily during this school year due to a shortage of drivers.
These training and staffing hurdles point to a broader need to strengthen career development, with efforts such as cross-training, providing drivers, technicians, and other transportation personnel, with a path for advancement, and succession planning.
Stay tuned for our April/May issue — which is now our career-themed issue. There, we will explore this topic in greater depth and offer guidance on putting these programs and practices into place.