“It’s a big bus, but it really isn’t a big deal.”
That catchy slogan jumped out at me as I viewed a driver recruitment video that was posted online by Wichita (Kan.) Public Schools in February. In the spot, a training manager for the district’s contractor, First Student, explains what it takes to become a school bus driver as the local operation looks to bring new recruits on board — an issue that many districts and contractors across the nation are struggling with.
“With our 50-hour training program that includes classroom and behind-the-wheel … the technical and safety piece of the training, we can really teach just about anybody,” says Renee Boydo, training center manager for First Student, in the Wichita video.
She also points out that no experience is needed, and the company provides paid training to help new drivers get their CDL.
“We’re really looking for compassionate people who want to … work with our kids in the school district,” Boydo says, adding that many of the current drivers are retired folks who were looking to stay active and bring in some extra income.
In the background, instructors are shown working with new drivers in behind-the-wheel training in a large church parking lot.
A couple of things struck me about this video. One is that it does a great job of speaking to people who might be intimidated by the prospect of driving a 40-foot bus. For some, that could be the main concern keeping them from considering a career as a school bus driver.
To address this issue, some school districts have held events in which they let job seekers try driving a school bus in a closed lot. The goal is to show that these large vessels are actually not that difficult to drive. Again, as Boydo says, “It’s a big bus, but it really isn’t a big deal.”
Also, the Wichita video provides another compelling reason to become a school bus driver: working with children. Boydo points out that the operation is looking for candidates who have compassion — a key trait for connecting with kids.
As we’ve noted in past editorials, there are other commercial driving jobs that pay more than driving a school bus, but they don’t involve transporting students. Some potential drivers might prefer not to be responsible for several dozen youngsters while navigating the roads. But for others, the opportunity to contribute to children’s education and safety could be what sparks their interest in the job.
The Wichita recruiting video takes an effective approach to a problem that continues to plague school bus operations nationwide: driver shortage. As we reported in our latest School District Survey, 90% of respondents have some degree of school bus driver shortage.
We also partnered with the National Association for Pupil Transportation on a separate driver shortage survey in the fall. A few of the key findings were:
• More than one-third of all respondents (37%) indicated that the bus driver shortage is either severe or desperate for their company or school district.
• For more than half of all respondents (52%), dealing with driver shortage is their No. 1 problem or concern.
• More than two-thirds (70%) of all respondents believe the trend for having a shortage of bus drivers is getting a little worse or much worse.
As these studies show, it’s a critical time to get the word out in your communities about the need for school bus drivers. Driving a big bus may not be a big deal, yet for the kids who rely on those bus drivers to get them to school, it is a big deal.