COLUMBUS, Ohio — National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) conference attendees got a glimpse at some of the numbers behind the driver shortage across the U.S. and hashed out some solutions for hiring quality candidates at conference sessions here on Sunday.
The results of NAPT’s 2017 Driver Shortage survey, shared with attendees by John Hazelette, a school transportation consultant who also serves on the NAPT board, sparked spirited discussion about recruitment challenges and successes.
Among the findings were the top factors causing driver shortage: benefits; rate of pay; obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL); and the hours available to work. Audience members noted that wait times for taking the CDL exam present a hurdle, with one saying his candidates sometimes have to wait about six months.
More than half of survey respondents said that driver shortage is their top concern. Some audience members said that they think that the pool of potential drivers is becoming more varied, whereas it used to be mostly stay-at-home moms and some retirees, who had more flexible schedules.
Even with many respondents reporting that they have increased benefits to a full package (retirement, dental, and vision care) from what they offered last year, and the trend in retention is improving, according to survey results, the perception of respondents is that driver shortage is getting worse.
Some of the more positive survey results shared: the hiring process is significantly shorter than it was last year, decreasing from an average of 28 days to 21 days among unionized organizations, Hazelette said.
Regarding recruitment, some attendees said they are now opting for Facebook instead of newspaper ads, and have seen some success. Placing an ad on "I Heart Radio" was another suggestion that yielded positive results.
Other recruitment methods that attendees said worked for them are developing a relationship with a local reporter who now also covers the district transportation department's positive developments, holding a transportation open house for prospective applicants, letting people who are interested drive the bus to ease fears of driving a large vehicle, and placing monitors on nearly all buses, which has also helped get more substitute drivers to fill in routes, one attendee noted.
Meanwhile, Lori Miller, owner of the company Developing Professionals, got attendees on their feet for some interactive exercises as she shared information on best practices for selecting job candidates and the most effective uses for different types of interviews.
In a test of observation skills and a show of the desire to maintain habit, attendees formed pairs and observed each other for 15 seconds. Then, they each turned around and changed three things about their appearance. Their partners guessed what was different about them, and most attendees proved pretty sharp, getting two or all three of the changes right.
Miller also noted that every attendee changed their appearance back immediately after the exercise, and some said they preferred going back to their normal routine. She asked the audience to step out of their comfort zone when they come across an “a-ha!” moment and to apply it, even if that shakes up routine.
Clearly defining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for a job in the form of a job description is essential, Miller said, because it clarifies the job’s purpose and holds people accountable. In groups, attendees then listed all the qualities of the “perfect” employee, as well as those of the “worst” employee. Desirable qualities included being coachable, a team player, and detail-oriented. Red flags included being unreliable, negative, and not paying attention to students.
To assess the qualities and abilities of candidates, Miller went over tools to analyze applicants, including phone interviews. Over-the-phone interviews, she said, can provide information not always easily obtained in resumes and in-person interviews on a candidate’s character and demeanor, by focusing on tone of voice and removing visual biases.
In addition to acting as another filter, conducting a phone interview before an in-person interview can also gauge an applicant’s level of interest and allow the employer to share information, such as pay rate or job requirements, that may change the candidate’s mind about the job, saving the employer money and time on testing and training.
Miller recommended having five simple questions to ask in the interview.
“Within five minutes, I can tell whether they are going to be a good fit or not,” she said.
She also advised consistency in who conducts the interviews to avoid biases.
Miller also cautioned attendees about laws that prohibit asking certain questions, such as those about race, religion, marital status, or whether the candidate has children. Focusing questions on the job’s required skills and responsibilities and asking how they would handle typical scenarios on the job is best, she added.