The stock market is up today, but yesterday it was down. Why? You’d think those decisions were made from fear and greed, when actually it’s some high-frequency computer algorithm that’s seeing a trend and responding by driving the markets—at least according toBloomberg. It feels almost inhuman, but the fact is that the investor response is based on analyzing existing data or forecasted market conditions.
So, let’s get into some data. What are the top pressing challenges facing your fleet? According to a recent survey for our Transportation Director Summit at this month’s STN EXPO, the top challenges relayed by 114 school district transportation directors and private fleet executives are: 1. Increased Driver Recruitment and Retention; 2. Student Behavior; 3. Budgets; 4. Bell Time Changes; 5. Driver Training; and, 6. Better Parent Communications.
Some of these responses came as no surprise to me, such as budgets and driver recruitment/retention. But student behavior, bell time changes and better parent communications really got me thinking. Do these responses surprise you too, or are you facing the same challenges? If so, what’s the answer? Technology, of course.
Additionally, we asked participants, “Which of the following equipment categories does your organization forecast to procure over the next 12 months?” Here’s what they said: 1. Onboard Video Security; 2. New Type C School Buses; 3. New Type D School Buses; 4. Onboard Child Checking; 5. Student Tracking Apps/RFID Tracking; and, 6. GPS/GIS.
Do you see these products and services matching up to solve your top challenges? I can identify a few that will surely assist, such as student tracking apps/RFID, that would address better parent communications. Also, onboard video security is a component of managing student behavior. I believe our survey data supports the industry’s need for technology, at least in some cases
Another major challenge to be addressed is recruitment and retention. It remains the top issue I continue to hear about at conferences and around the industry. Our survey further proves this point.
There is clearly a systemic problem across the school bus industry in finding and retaining drivers. Similar hunger pangs exist in other on-highway commercial carriers as well.
This all begs the question: Can we look at things differently when it comes to human resources? Forbes reports that the top nine things that motivate employees toward achievement are trustworthy leadership, being relevant, proving others wrong, career advancement, no regrets, stable future, self-indulgence, impact, and happiness.” Is your district or company delivering these values as an employer?
Drivers are simply demanding more from their employers. Teamster negotiations recently took place in Elk Grove Village and Villa Park, Illinois, where new drivers will now earn $17 an hour. Starting drivers in Glen Ellyn, Illinois will see wages increase to $18 an hour. Some First Student drivers will see overall wages improve by $2 per hour, while more than half of the drivers will earn no less than $20 an hour, thanks to the union bargaining agreement. Benefits matter, and these drivers also secured a matching 401(k) retirement plan and additional holiday vacation.
I view the driver recruitment and retention challenge as simple economics—supply and demand. The number of available drivers is low, which causes wages and benefits to rise. You don’t need an inhuman algorithm to tell you that. It’s a trend that doesn’t seem to have a clear, long-term solution. I suggest you consider breaking the trend of doing what you have always done to compensate drivers. We all know what the definition of insanity is.
Start looking within your own organization and determine how to better enhance the work environment, bus barn, lunch room and even inside the driver’s cab. You’ll be glad you did and so will your employees, especially the drivers.
Reprinted from the June issue of School Transportation News magazine.