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‘Rising SuperStar’ Shares Benefits of Company Driver Training Programs

Sho Kalache created a robust driver training program in Canada that better streamlined the school bus driver hiring process during COVID-19. She is now looking to launch a similar program in Michigan.

Kalache actually developed the first program pre-pandemic while serving as the director of operations improvement at Stock Transportation in Markham, Ontario. She explained that Ontario has a driver certification program for companies or entities. Kalache, who is a School Transportation News 2022 Rising SuperStar, started working at Stock in October 2018.

She noted that Stock, a subsidiary of National Express, used to have a program to train trainers, but the Ministry of Transportation shut it down, that is until she came along. She added that one of her initiatives upon hire was rewriting the program and resubmitting it to the Ministry of Transportation for approval.

Mark Hannah, the senior vice president of operations for National Express, added that Kalache worked with region and general managers to develop the Driver Instructor Certification Program, which included being certified to hire internal signing authorities (SAs).

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“SA’s train potential candidates and have the ability to issue CDL’s, which are required to operate a school bus,” Hannah said. “Bringing this process in-house increased efficiency and shortened the training process from 28 days to 10 days, without compromising the quality of our training program. It also shortened the processing time for issuing CDL’s. Without internal SA’s being able to deliver the in-house program, we would not have had enough drivers to cover all routes as there was no training offered by third party services during the pandemic. Having this program allowed for us to get ahead during the 2020-2021 [school year.] We are the only operator within these two provinces to have SA’s lead our in-house program.”

Sho Kalache, Region Manager of Trinity Transportation, Trinity Transportation/National Express

Kalche said that it gave the company an advantage during COVID-19 because none of the other programs were running, but Stock was still able to create trainers in house. She explained that coming into the school year after the pandemic, Stock trainers were ready to train drivers and in a better staffing position for that school year.

Hannah added that Kalache also identified a training gap in Canada and worked with location general managers to identify high-potential drivers. “Under her guidance, Canada nearly tripled [its] number of SA’s from 34 to 90. This is the largest number of trainers we have ever had,” he said. “She then created a sense of community amongst the SA’s through quarterly virtual meetings that gave them the opportunity to learn from each other and allowed the company to ensure that the SA’s had all the tools and training they needed to conduct training successfully.”

Kalache noted that when she first started at Stock, there was no way to keep track of SA’s and the company didn’t know how people were progressing through the training program. She noted that the company’s estimate was that it should take about six weeks from the time applicants start training to when they would be ready to take the test.

“We came up with a mechanism to track that and then make improvements so that we can tackle those problem areas and save money on training and ensure we’re not training people that are never going to pass and stay in the system forever,” she said, adding that they then took it further and built a spreadsheet to link the trainees to the trainer. “We can see their pass or fail rate by trainer, and then we could see the average hourly cost based on how long it was taking the trainer to train somebody and how successful they were.”

She said if applicants don’t reach a certain level within a certain time frame, they’re cut from the school bus driver training program. This helps with efficiency as well as cost per trainer and trainer success rate. Then, she said, the company can focus on the trainers that had a lower success rate and determine if they need more training.

Kalache also created plans for low-performing customer service center locations in Canada to improve key performance indicators. Kalache explained that in March 2020, the company started to look at its staffing needs for the next school year. Staff looked at the average time it takes to train someone, how many trainers each location had and how successful those locations were.

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“It became apparent we didn’t have enough trainers in some locations,” she said. “So, we were able to increase our capacity by adding more trainers and then we broke it down by the weekly [progress].”

As of this May, Kalache is now at National Express’ Trinity Transportation in Michigan, where she is the region manager. She said she’s trying to implement similar ideas that were used in Canada to address staff shortages. However, she said she’s still learning the differences between licensing in the two countries.

“We’ve able to sort of create targets that are weekly, keep track of progress, and see how we’re doing,” she said, adding that gaps are becoming apparent in where it’s taking longer to train people. “Were starting to tackle those issues.”

She noted that Trinity has seven training locations. Five operate well, but two are experiencing staffing challenges. “It wasn’t exactly the same as Canada, but we were able to minimize time gaps. Make sure when someone applies, that within 24 hours they get a call.”

She noted that she’s working on giving power back to the locations, so staff can develop their own systems to process applicants efficiently, as opposed to having to report to a centralized location, as it was slowing the process down.

“That’s still a work in progress,” she concluded.

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