One of the biggest ongoing industry stories of 2019 was the shortage of school bus drivers, as well as technicians. It does not bode well for student transportation that the issue also has negatively impacted the larger commercial truck industry.
After all, how apt do you think truckers are who make $80,000 a year to take a substantial pay cut to drive a busload of 60 children, when 6,000 cartons of milk leave you to the peace and quiet of the open road?
But for the former employees of Celadon Group, Inc., driving a school bus looks mighty attractive right about now.
The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month and ceased operations amid a scandal involving its former chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Celadon was the largest provider of international truckload services in North America when the FBI arrested the two men on Dec. 5.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana indicted them on nine counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to make false statements to the company’s accountants and to falsify records.
Now 4,000 truckers are out of jobs, many of whom were stranded on the road when Celadon announced it was closing for good. Their fuel cards were shut off, and repair centers refused to perform maintenance.
There are several lessons to be learned by student transporters and opportunities to be had if they act immediately. The Celadon closure provides school districts with an example of the potential, immediate relief for its own shortages.
But the race is on. Many shipping firms were reportedly scrambling to gobble-up former Celadon truckers to help with deliveries during the holiday season.
In this new economy, the industry needs to think well outside of the box on a number of issues. Where it turns for new candidates and how it makes contact with them, should be at the very top of the list.
Certainly, Celadon does not spell the end to all of the school bus industry’s shortage woes. But it provides an example of how school districts and bus companies can use current events to target would-be employees.
That leads me to this month’s issue, in which articles explore the customer service portion of student transportation. This extends far beyond the support of parents and students to include training opportunities that are provided by districts to their employees and by vendors to their customers.
Now ask yourself, is customer service an element of your operations when considering future staff? In other words, are you spending management resources to identify potential pools of talent?
For example, there are an increasing number of school districts that are hiring dedicated human resource professionals who have the tasks of recruiting school bus drivers, mechanics and other staff members.
Likewise, districts are employing social networking experts to help promote the positive effects of school busing and sharing stories of the everyday heroes who provide the service.
It’s been well-established that school bus driver pay is subpar to competing industries. But there remain plenty of positives to getting behind the wheel of the yellow vehicles.
Do school districts need to do more to incentivize the position? Definitely.
But transportation departments can also do more to spread the good word about what being a school bus driver truly means. How the right kind of driver can positively impact students for the rest of their lives should be heard.
This starts at home, or more aptly, in the bus yard. Your existing people are the best litmus test for any prospective hire to use when judging the quality of your organization, and if they want to become a part of the culture.
Treat your school bus drivers, mechanics, routers, dispatchers, trainers and support staff with respect and they will return the favor.
Money is tight in school districts when it comes to student transportation, but what else is new? What employees want is to be recognized, supported and held as valuable.
I think our friends at the former Celadon Group would certainly agree.
Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the January issue of School Transportation News.