I have learned a few valuable life lessons over the last year as a school bus driver recruiter — all because I’ve changed career courses. Some lessons have been glaringly evident, while others have been difficult to spot. Regardless, my time recruiting school bus drivers has been time well spent — an investment even — in my 20-year career as a professional recruiter.
I offer these lessons now to others hoping to impart a wiser, more approachable method for leading teams, prioritizing both personal and professional goals, and appreciating those who take on the task of driving school buses.
Lesson #1: Whether parents like it or not, school bus drivers have an incredible amount of influence on our children.
Because of how bus routes are set up, children can be on the bus anywhere from 10 minutes to even 90 minutes each way every day. Yes — that’s an hour-and-a-half each way, or three hours a day, if you count the afternoon ride. Our children watch drivers. Do they use their mirrors? Are they talking on the phone while they’re driving? Do they curse under their breath when another driver cuts them off?
I know this because my son tells me weekly when his bus driver is or isn’t wearing her seat belt, whether or not she stopped at the railroad tracks in our community, and he’s always quick to tell me if she has her safety vest. Ultimately, not only do kids learn their future driving habits from us as parents, but they’re also taking notes (though not literally) on how their school bus driver navigates the streets to and from school.
These drivers — they also consider your kids “their kids.” They get attached to our children as they see them twice every day, and they prefer to be their driver until they actually graduate from school. Drivers will celebrate your child’s birthday with them; drivers will correct your child when they’ve behaved badly; they will even celebrate the grade your child received on a math test.
I witnessed one driver who saw a child in junior high become depressed and withdrawn over the course of a few months. The driver had a heart-to-heart talk with the child that probably saved the child’s life.
As a parent, it pains me to think that I may not notice my child’s depression, yet someone who sees my child for maybe an hour each day is able to address something as important as whatever was going on with this junior high school student. School bus drivers are the everyday heroes who go unnoticed in our communities, and their influence on our children is important to recognize.
Lesson #2: Not everyone can or should be a school bus driver.
I have conducted possibly over 1,000 interviews in my 20 years recruiting people, and it has been my experience that not everyone who interviews for a position is actually qualified for that position.
Eight years ago, I was recruiting bank tellers and finance managers. As you may suspect, not everyone can work as a bank teller. Perhaps they aren’t great at counting money; perhaps they don’t have great customer service skills; or, perhaps it’s overwhelming to some candidates to handle thousands and thousands of dollars daily and have to account for every penny. Not everyone can be, or should be, a bank teller. I certainly would not want to be in charge of that much money — especially when it’s someone else’s money.
The same holds true for school bus drivers. Not everyone can be a school bus driver.
School bus drivers must have patience. They must have good conflict management skills, or at least be coachable to handle conflict; they need the ability to communicate effectively to a supervisor or dispatcher; they must be safety-minded and be able to be prompt — every day; they must possess the ability to get along with their peers; and, above all, they need to know how to keep the customer in mind: the parents, the principals, the community at large, and, yes, the kids.
As the recruiter, my job is to discern who is least and who is most qualified for this position. At the very essence, I not only must remember my role as the filter, but I also have to remind others in my business to hold the same standard. School bus drivers aren’t simply the everyday person from your community; they have skills.They are communicators. They are educators. And above all, they are the safest drivers out on the road.
Lesson #3: Safety, not recruiting, really must be the No. 1 priority of any transportation operation.
At a start-up meeting for the new school year, one of the safety training supervisors gave the statistic that out of every 1,000 incidents, approximately 320 were actual accidents.
Out of the 320 accidents, 23 caused bodily injury, and out of the 23 injuries, one fatality resulted. That’s one life for every 1,000 incidents. Safety really has to be the No. 1 priority in this business. Whether it’s remembering to reposition a side mirror, hesitating for five more seconds before pulling out of a parking space, or picking up a piece of paper on the ground — it’s all about safety.
In my world of field recruiting, safety has to be one of my highest priorities as well. Leaving early enough to get to my destination is a must so that I don’t have to rush. In field recruiting, rushing to an appointment can lead to all sorts of problems: accidents due to carelessness in my vehicle, traffic tickets due to speeding, and even accidents in parking lots, such as tripping and falling. (I’m still recovering from a recent fall in which I busted my knee open trying to hurry to a morning meeting for which I was on time.)
Being safe in what you are doing takes precedence over getting to the appointment on time or even getting children to school or home at a certain time. I’d rather arrive safely, conduct myself in a manner that embodies safety, and hold others to the same standard than jeopardize the health, safety and even lives of those around me.
Lesson #4: Having a working calendar is essential for a recruiter’s success.
As my 14-year-old transitions to eighth grade this year, his homeroom teacher has already begun teaching him the value of having an organizer. “Write down your homework here; use the calendar to show when you have tests; keep a working list of your Spanish vocabulary words; and have your parents sign off on your calendar each Friday,” she says.
Managing multiple tasks starts early in one’s academic experience, and adults should maintain this habit throughout their careers, regardless of the industry. The same holds true when recruiting school bus drivers: organization puts you on the right road.
Whether you use Outlook, a spiral-bound calendar or an Excel spreadsheet to manage priorities, having a working calendar that shows the highs and lows for recruiting in this industry will save recruiters a lot of heartache throughout the year. In the industry of school bus transportation, I have learned that there is a specific season for high-volume recruiting — and it’s not when you think it is.
Most outsiders think my heavy work season is during the school year, September through May. The opposite is actually true. While I continue recruiting during the school year, the high volume recruiting season is April through August. Having a working calendar to show the events, advertising and the strategic plan for recruiting anywhere from 50 to 200 drivers each season helps me manage all of my projects and serve my internal customer. While other professionals may be able to work without managing a chaotic calendar, this industry requires recruiters to manage multiple priorities daily.
Lesson #5: Working in school transportation is really a great profession.
So many kids have big dreams to become teachers, lawyers, doctors or ballerinas when they grow up, and not many of them will tell you that becoming a school bus driver is on their list of professions. In fact, not many adult professionals, whether blue or white collar, will tell you they aspire to become a school bus driver. If I am fortunate to run across a candidate who aspires to be a professional school bus driver, it’s usually because a bus driver from their past impacted their success, or they’ve known someone who loves being a school bus driver. Quite frankly, this isn’t such a bad gig.
Moreover, and this was probably my biggest aha moment: This industry thrives on overachievers. The driver who has a passion for safety; the monitor who spent five previous years as a teacher’s aide and enjoys teaching and training; or that driver who has the tenacity to lead — these are the people who are able to move up and around in this business. They become our trainers, our safety managers, our road supervisors and our next general managers.
This industry thrives on the experience our drivers nurture while being employed. As a professional recruiter, it is awesome to see someone’s career progress.