COVID-19 has forced nearly every aspect of society to evolve and hope for a little luck along the way. Keep moving forward. Keep innovating. If you need proof of what can happen if you don’t get with the times, take a look at the growing list of large corporations that have for one reason or another declared bankruptcy. Many of them were at one time stalwarts of their industry. But today, they are out of business or restructuring because they failed to pivot and get out in front of disruptions, which were created by more forward-thinking entrepreneurs and, now, this global pandemic.
Simply put, the way we conduct business today pales in comparison to how we did it four months ago, not to mention four or 40 years ago. Certainly, public education and student transportation is relatively unrecognizable when compared to school startup at this juncture last year. Meanwhile, industry manufacturers and suppliers have also seen their operations turn on their ears. During the economic slowdown that resulted from schools closing nationwide and states issuing stay-at-home orders in the spring, some supply chains ground to a halt.
Traditional sales and networking also ceased. Vendors and customers alike yearn for good, old-fashioned personal contact. We all do. But the realization soon came that we’d have to remain at least six feet apart and substitute handshakes and hugs with elbow bumps and air high fives to continue doing business. Too much space is neither conducive to closing a deal nor transporting students on school buses nor educating them. The same goes for training employees.
Student transporters who were lucky enough to remain on the job and continue receiving paychecks were able to deliver student meals, homework supplies or internet access this spring. (And in some school districts that are going back to remote learning or hybrid educational models, those services will continue this school year.) Many staff members also continued reporting to the school bus garage to conduct preventive maintenance and catch up on equipment installs.
But others mirrored the students they serve by staying home. Some transportation staff, if and when they return to work this new school year, will not have stepped foot on a school bus in nearly five months. The only way for supervisors back at the office could remain in touch with these employees was virtually, using various internet video and text messaging solutions. With social distancing requirements in place, and every state pupil transportation association canceling its summer conference, those video meetings and chats became distance learning opportunities, in an effort to keep skills sharp despite an early, extended and unwelcomed summer vacation.
Not that remote learning isn’t without its challenges. There are worries about the abilities of older employees to grasp the online tools. People also learn differently and at various paces. Some are self-starters who thrive with unguided lessons, while others require moderation. But the lesson is that remote learning has untapped potential. Instead of focusing on why it won’t work for your operation, ask this question: How could it work for us?
Everyone would rather be together in person, but with COVID-19 that might simply be impossible. We would prefer to hold the STN EXPO Indianapolis + TSD Conference in October and the STN EXPO Reno in early November. We still plan to. If we can pull the in-person events off safely, then great. But even then, some people will be unable or unwilling to travel.
Enter the inaugural and virtual Bus Technology Summit, which kicks off next month. It’s our latest effort to interactively and remotely connect with our audience to deliver the news and information they need to do their jobs better and safer. Meanwhile, we launched our School Transportation Nation podcast in March to supplement our print and online news coverage as well as educational webinar series.
Ramping up for the new school year is rarely an easy feat even in good years, and no matter how much you plan and practice. But this month and extending into the fall, student transporters face challenges they’ve never experienced before. Realizing some semblance of success will take moxie, resolve and a new way of doing things to scale these mountains. It will also take acceptance of the new normal, which includes how we all learn and strive to improve.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted from the August issue of School Transportation News.