Our members have shared the dilemmas and challenges they face in the recruitment, training and retention of transportation personnel with us. While it is hard to find experienced directors, routers, trainers and mechanics, the most elusive and difficult positions to fill across the country are school bus drivers. This shortage impacts urban, suburban and rural areas and all sizes of school districts.
You can’t go anywhere today without seeing evidence of hiring challenges in all industries and organizations. From billboards at McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants, to signs in stores, hotels and entertainment venues, lots of positions are available. “Please apply” is the rallying cry, and a variety of incentives are available, things like free meals, sign-on bonuses and immediate opportunities for pay increases.
With this understanding, how do we find the right people to direct, route, train, maintain and drive our buses? If the lack of available employees is universal, how can we possibly compete? Many of our members have union contracts and intensive human resources processes and policies to comply with. Add those to special licenses, background checks and screenings, and limited or unusual hours, and becoming a transportation professional can be a challenge.
While it is hard to compete with free meals or sign-on bonuses, we do have a major competitive advantage. We are not just looking for warm bodies to fill positions. We are looking for what I refer to as “the right people.” We want people who meet our criteria and will guard, protect and care about the students they transport. We deal with precious human cargo that requires special care, understanding and compassion. We have defined criteria to enable us to find people who will not only drive safely and practice excellent work habits, but who want to make a difference and who care!
Our competitive advantage is also that school districts are safe and secure places to work. In many cases, our benefit and retirement packages are solid, and we pay a competitive wage. We also provide a work environment where you are treated like a colleague and a professional. We have high expectations because we provide essential services. We are the first adult a student sees in the morning and the last at the end of the school day. We transport populations that include K-12 students; special education children who would have not access to school without a ride; and thousands and thousands of athletes, band members, drill teams, and students in clubs or who are going on field trips. In the intricate and complicated education world, our role is significant!
Seeking “the right people” starts with creating welcoming practices and people. When we recruit, what do we share about the jobs? How do you share your story and represent the brand? Do we share our success stories and use the words of our best employees to encourage applying? Once we hire, do we invest the extra time it takes to not only do formal onboarding practices, but to create relationships and build trust?
Despite the strife and turmoil I see in our politics and society in general today, I also see good people who want to make a difference. They want jobs that treat them respectfully, honor their skills and give them opportunities to advance. They want jobs that allow them to have a healthy family and personal life. The “right people” exist, we just need to show them what we offer!
Safety is a huge issue for prospective employees. We have witnessed unprecedented violence on campuses in the last few years. How we address safety with prospective hires is key to successful recruitment. We must showcase our safety records; the devices and equipment on our buses that support safety; and the continual training on how to deal with children, conflict and safe driving techniques we provide! We need to understand what candidates’ fears and concerns are and provide solutions.
We also need to understand and address their personal needs for recognition and support. This includes transparent practices, open communication, the ability to handle issues quickly and providing employees with administrative support and understanding. We need to celebrate their milestones and share in finding solutions when difficulties arise. We need to treat them how we want to be treated every day.
Can we do this? Can we find the “right people?” We can and we will. One hire at a time! One successful candidate at a time! One relationship at a time! Our best recruiters can be our own employees!
For the remainder of 2023, the issue of transportation professional/bus driver recruitment will be an ongoing discussion and project for NAPT and the NAPT Foundation. We will provide monthly information, articles, forums and discussions to highlight best practices. Stay tuned!
By the way, don’t forget, your district or organization hired you! They found the “right person” for the job! With your support, they can do it again and again.
Thank you for your commitment, professionalism and dedication to our profession. Every day, your actions and activities make a difference!