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Recognize Your Operation’s Stars And You Just Might Keep Them

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has been an unparalleled interrupter in our lives. While many of us have grown accustomed to rolling with the punches—none do that better than
student transporters—it continues to wreak havoc, especially as outbreaks continue to spike across the country, mostly impacting the unvaccinated.

It’s easy to withdraw and hide in fear, especially as many of the unvaccinated are students under the age of 12 riding school buses. And while the data indicates it’s rare, vaccination does not necessarily protect one from contracting the virus. But running from a challenge is not how professionals in this industry are programmed.

High achievers turn interruption into disruption, often thought of in terms of technology as the radical change to existing plans. To succeed in the face of disruption requires a nimble perspective shift from seeing only problems to identifying solutions. Embracing opportunities rather than decrying the challenges.

Such positivity exudes from the many stories we’ve shared in the magazine as well as at stnonline.com and during five virtual events since last September (how’s that for going with the flow?) as to how student transporters have flipped the script and used the health crisis to their best possible advantage. We look forward to continuing to connect attendees with these insights as our own in-person events return this fall. And there will be plenty to talk about, especially as the industry is besieged by perhaps the most challenging driver shortage it has ever seen.

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Related: Challenges Persist in Recruiting Bus Drivers Ahead of New School Year 

For example, New York School Bus Contractors Association Executive Director Tammy Mortier told members that the state projects a bus driver shortage in the range of 15- to 20-percent by next month. As competition for drivers, technicians and other support staff is at an all-time high, it comes down to managing resources, Mortier advised.

Allow me to up the ante and suggest that it’s also about championing your existing resources while making the case for renewed investments, not simply in technology but people power. Look no further for an example of positive storytelling than this month’s Garage Stars, where we profile 10 of the 140 technicians and mechanics nominated by supervisors and peers for their expertise and service. Leave it to school bus folks to get the most out their staff, operations and themselves during a pandemic shutdown.

The work never ceased. Despite the closure of schools and grounding of buses for almost a year and a half in some places, thousands of vehicles were still utilized as roaming Wi-Fi hotspots, meal deliveries and books on wheels. That ultimately meant no skimping on vehicle maintenance.

Meanwhile, traditional state and national conferences did grind to a halt. The postponement of state conferences meant vital in-person networking became harder to accomplish (though virtual events provided a bridge) and many annual state awards went on hiatus, or they were relegated to impersonal press releases that announced winners but without the usual fanfare. Thankfully with the return of in-person conferences, the accolades are back in the form of drivers and trainers and technicians of the year.

Related: Agenda, Speakers Released for STN EXPO Indianapolis
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Related: Onsite EXPO, TSD Conferences Set to Return in the Fall

Highlighting transportation employees has never been more important. A culture of employee appreciation breeds high performance, as indicated by the stories in this issue as well as that of past Garage Star Jason Johnson, the head mechanic for Horseheads Central School District in New York state. The New York Association for Pupil Transportation named him Tech of the Year last month. Johnson, who also organizes the New York Head Mechanic Association annual training event and trade show, which rivals any national show, has graciously agreed to bring his expertise to STN EXPO Indianapolis in October as a speaker.

There are literally thousands of others like Johnson who are driven every day to provide the very best service to and for schoolchildren. We will continue to feature their stories in print, on our website, via social media, and at our events. All we ask is that you come along for the ride and continue to promote them and the jobs they are performing with all you say and do.

Taking time to recognize your highest performers makes you, your operation, and the entire industry look good. Could solving or at least curbing driver and tech shortages—not to mention inspiring the rest of your staff—be as simple as recognizing jobs well done? What do we have to lose in trying?

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the August 2021 issue of School Transportation News.

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