Sure, the physical aspect of the STN EXPO Indianapolis in-person conference looked different. Some attendees wore masks. There was a plethora of hand-sanitizer and color-coded wristbands indicating one’s interaction comfortability. Yet, the conversations and excitement of being together outweighed all the other obstacles.
After 26 months since the last in-person STN conference, held in Reno, Nevada in July 2019, it was refreshing to see industry professionals back together and networking among peers. In addition, attendees at the Transportation Director Summit not only learned from speaker Ross Bernstein strategies for employee retention and ways to stay a creative and relevant business, but they were also able to relax from what has been described as the most challenging school start-up in history.
Not to mention, this was the first time many STN staff members have been together in the same building. Being able to celebrate personal accomplishments with my co-workers was incredible, so I can only imagine how attendees felt being able to share trials and tribulations from this past year with their industry peers.
Plus, keynote speaker Tim Gard discussed the importance of bringing laughter back to the office to cure stress. Seeing the audience on the verge of tears from laughing so hard only brought a bigger smile to my face. It felt comforting to see people loosen up.
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Despite the popularity of new products, such as cleaning and disinfecting systems as well as air technology, what stood out to me during the conference and trade show was the need to not lose focus on previous safety technology. Lap/shoulder seatbelts, routing software, GPS, camera systems, the list goes on, should still be a top-of-mind priority for directors.
When something new interrupts our daily life, it’s hard not to focus 100 percent of our energy on whatever that disruption was, but conference speakers reiterated the importance of driver training and how these technologies play a role in driver retention.
While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc, the shutdown forced us to spend more time with the people in our inner circle. It also reminded us to appreciate the little things in life, such as going out to eat. While it brought on many new cleaning protocols and mandates, and overall challenges in general, it didn’t change the industry’s compassion for the safe transportation of students.
That was obvious during STN EXPO Indy. Everyone still had a hankering to learn, whether it was about electric vehicles, technology return on investment, or student behavior.
Take a moment to reflect on why you joined the industry. I can tell you from my profiles of school transportation professionals, over and over I hear student safety and the people in the industry as the two top reasons that keep others invested for over 20, 30 even 40 years.
I know many in the industry couldn’t attend the conference due to the ongoing driver shortage, but I hope you find time to step back and focus on what has been driving you through your career in pupil transportation. I hope you recall what got you into the industry in the first place and use that to fuel you through this school year, as we all know it won’t be easy.
Most of all, I hope to see your beautiful faces in Frisco, Texas for the TSD Conference, or in Nevada for STN EXPO Reno. Keep doing what you do best!