HomeNewsEXPO Session Covers Three R’s of Staff Building: Recruitment, Retention & Recognition

EXPO Session Covers Three R’s of Staff Building: Recruitment, Retention & Recognition

Michael Shields, the director of transportation services at Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon since 2001, led a breakout session at the STN EXPO on Sunday, “Driver Recruitment and Retention,” that drew a standing-room-only crowd. Shields said he wasn’t surprised as the issue is a top concern among transportation directors, according to a survey taken at a recent school bus summit in Texas he attended.

Drawing on his 13 years of experience managing some 500 employees — 300 in transportation services — Shields launched the interactive session by asking attendees to form groups and brainstorm with each other on the traits of the “perfect” driver.

“People shouted out: dependability, honesty, reliability, likes kids, customer service oriented. What’s interesting is that each of the groups came up with almost identical characteristics,” he told STN.

To get multiple perspectives during the interviewing process, Shields utilizes a “team of three,” he explained, that includes his transportation supervisor, fleet and operations manager and a school administrator, such as a principal or office manager. They hold the interview at various schools “to get across to prospective drivers that it’s all about the kids.”

Before the interview, he recommends discussing the image you want to portray for the school district along with traits of the ideal candidate. Shields has worked on branding Salem-Kaizer’s Transportation Services by printing hats, shirts, bags and jackets with the school district logo and “Transportation” embroidered underneath.

“We give shirts as awards to any driver who participates in a Roadeo, has perfect attendance or achieves a safe record,” he continued. “With branding, you have a visual. What is the culture or image you want to project through branding?”

Branding plays a key rule in the department’s recruitment strategies, which includes job fairs, banner buses, billboards, tables at malls and farmers markets and calls for candidates on the district website.

Shields pointed out that the “Now Hiring School Bus Drivers” brochure posted online contains driver testimonials, complete with headshots, designed to reflect the culture of his department.

“I hear about how friendly everyone is in our department from new drivers and visitors,” he added.

Shields also covered tips on screening job applicants, including reviewing their experience, education and references while also watching for red flags such as gaps in employment and finding out reasons for leaving their last job.

“It’s important to keep screening during training too, because people put their best face forward in the job interview, but they relax and are more real in training – they talk more. In process, they are who they are,” he continued.

Shields then provided additional methods for trainers to improve the screening process:

  • Pay or no pay for training
  • Observation rides
  • Mentoring
  • Relationship building
  • Listening for comments by training

Once the new hire comes aboard, Shields said the entire department does “a meet and greet” to make the driver feel like a members of their team.

When bus drivers are asked during performance reviews why they stay, the answers are typically the benefits, pay and hours, plus they like children and/or they want to be on same schedule as their own kids.

“What’s interesting is when we ask the opposing question, ‘Why do they leave?’ we get the same list,” said Shields.

He believes recognition systems help keep employees happy, like Farrell’s program “Give ‘em the Pickle!” and said they encourage his staff to give great customer service and exceed expectations.

“We have a special card and we write the specific behavior down. The person recognizing the individual can present the card and pickle pin to him or her. The employee being recognized is also given a logo shirt,” he said.

No matter how great your staff may be, Shields emphasized that there is problem solving and conflict resolution in every job — so what’s your perspective on it?

“Many times we hire on the safety or driving piece – and training programs are great – but how do they like kids? You can like kids but not have good delivery,” he said, noting the incredible diversity of his staff, which includes a two-star general, retired state patrolman, former photographer and journalist.

“You have to find individuals with certain gifts in order to grow your organization.”

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