MIAMI — Effective school bus driver recruitment and retention was the main topic on tap at the inaugural School Bus Fleet ConneX (SBFX).
The educational networking event, which was produced by School Bus Fleet and Bobit Business Media, took place Monday to Wednesday in Miami. More than 30 public and private school bus operators and 25 supplier and manufacturer companies participated in SBFX.
Roundtable discussions kicked off on Tuesday with Mark Aesch, the CEO of TransPro Consulting, outlining the importance of creating what he referred to as an “ownership culture” in the workplace.
That requires making a transition from simply hiring candidates who meet qualifications to “selecting the right people out of the gate.”
“Is it enough to say that the candidate has their commercial driver’s license and passed the background check?” he asked.
Aesch provided some success stories in industries in which recruitment is an obstacle and turnover is high.
One was at The Ritz-Carlton. Despite a 120% turnover rate in the hotel industry, the luxury hotel chain’s is only 20%, Aesch said. Founder Horst Schulze achieved this in part by creating a success profile with the characteristics of employees in different positions.
For example, when looking to reduce turnover for housekeepers, Schulze found that the most important part of their success profile was determined by asking candidates: ‘If you’re at a friend’s house and they’re having a party, do you help them with cleanup?’
Aesch likened that to reframing the question that is often put to school bus driver candidates from “Do you like kids?” to something like “If you’re at a friend’s party, do you play with or spend time with the kids?”
He challenged attendees to identify what their districts could do differently to improve recruitment by selecting people who are right for the job.
Cody Cox, director of transportation and fleet services at Bellville (Texas) Independent School District, said his district offers attendance bonuses and now gives extra hours to school bus drivers who want them by having them take on custodial work.
Other attendees suggested training technicians for leadership positions, showing prospective drivers videos of situations they will actually be experiencing, and working to change mindsets of board members and school staff by educating them on everything that the transportation department does.
In Wednesday’s roundtable discussions, Aesch focused on ways to retain the right employees and provide them with the tools they need to flourish. He encouraged attendees to look beyond just raising pay.
“Employees’ compensation needs to be connected with the results they produce,” he said. “They need to see it as tied to the company’s performance.”
To establish a culture of ownership, operators need to promote use of sound judgment versus policies, he said.
He shared a story of an Alabama bus driver, Wayne Price, who recently exhibited a culture of ownership. He anticipated that the students on his bus would be hungry when their school opened late because of bad weather, so he stopped at McDonalds and bought food for them.
“He broke many of the district’s rules, but used his judgment to take care of the students on his bus,” Aesch said. “He was in a culture that encouraged ownership.”
By contrast, in a culture of accountability, employees are told not to take risks and to just follow the rules.
“Will you work harder if you’re held accountable, or if you’re emotionally invested in the organization?” he asked.
Additionally, Aesch recommended investing in training employees on ownership thinking to connect them to the company’s performance.
The Ritz-Carlton, he noted, invests 300 hours in customer service training every year.
Aesch asked attendees what they could stop doing that is preventing them from creating a culture of ownership.
“As management, we should stop preaching ‘rule, rule, rule,’ and [encourage] common sense instead,” said Wendy Vaughn, director of transportation for Jones County (Ga.) School System.
Other attendees said they will stop treating people like a number, hiring people who don’t like kids, and will start empowering employees to make their own decisions.
Operators also participated in one-on-one sessions with a variety of school transportation industry suppliers and bus manufacturers, enabling them to have in-depth discussions about solutions for their operations.
More coverage of School Bus Fleet ConneX 2019 will appear in the June issue of SBF.
School Bus Fleet ConneX 2020 is taking place from April 22 to 24 in Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information, go here.