For the past few years, we at School Bus Fleet have been reporting on a pronounced shortage of school bus drivers. The issue has become such a pressing challenge in so many areas that even the mainstream media took notice this year.
As students headed back to school, news outlets across the nation covered school bus driver shortages from a local, regional, or national perspective. Many reporters who were researching the topic online found SBF’s coverage, including the results of our 2017 Top 50 Contractors survey, which showed that more than a quarter (27%) of respondents had a severe or desperate driver shortage.
Suddenly, it seemed, our phones were ringing off the hooks. Reporters from all over the country asked our editors, Thomas McMahon and Nicole Schlosser, to share their insights on the issue. They were interviewed by numerous newspapers, a public radio station, and television news programs — including Good Morning America.
The timing of these reports was no surprise, given that the media typically looks for interesting education-related news angles in the back-to-school season. On the other hand, the sudden flood of attention seemed a bit odd when you consider how long we’ve been addressing the current driver shortage. See, for instance, our February 2015 feature “20 Tips for Dealing With Driver Shortage.”
That example ties in with a key point that I want to convey here: As a management publication for pupil transportation, we’re not content to simply report on problems that are impacting the industry. A major part of our mission is to identify and share solutions to those problems.
Many school bus operations have taken steps to mitigate the driver shortage, and we’ve been passing their strategies along to our readers.
For example, in our September issue, Todd Watkins of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland discussed how his transportation department — which runs about 1,200 buses — has consistently stayed fully or almost fully staffed. Their strategies have included bringing the human resources function into the transportation department, providing paid training for the entire process of becoming a school bus driver, and talking to applicants right away and getting good candidates into training the next day.
In SBF's November issue, we offer a special series of feature articles that address school bus driver shortage from the aspects of recruitment, hiring, and retention. That includes an in-depth look at assessment tools for school bus driver applicants; tips for helping driver trainees pass the CDL test; and a New York district’s low-cost approaches to boosting driver recruitment.
Here’s another bright idea that we wrote about online recently: Dubuque (Iowa) Community Schools is using yard signs — normally the domain of real estate agents and political candidates — to recruit school bus drivers.
Kris Hall, transportation manager for Dubuque Community Schools, said that the district ordered 100 of the signs from SignsOnTheCheap.com for just under $400.
Dubuque runs about 70 route buses and was looking to recruit several route drivers as well as substitutes. In August, the district began posting the yard signs on school grounds and elsewhere around town (see photo at the beginning of the story). According to Hall, they are having the intended effect.
“The signs are working,” Hall said. “We’re getting candidates.”