For student transportation contractors – as with companies spanning the transportation industry – attracting and retaining safe, reliable drivers can be a challenge. As the demand for school bus drivers continues to outpace supply for many companies and school districts, we know from our experience that the ability to recruit and retain excellent employees comes down to culture. Student transportation providers must stand out as innovative, supportive, people-first employers to be better equipped to hire and keep key employees. 

When we talk about culture, however, we’re referring not just to perks or slogans, but to a real sense of connection and commitment that is woven into every aspect of the employee experience. Keeping this definition of culture in mind, let’s look at two key areas – recruiting and retaining employees – as well as key steps a student transportation contractor can take to build a more employee-centric organization. 

Recruiting school bus drivers 

Recruiting is often seen as just a volume game. But even more important is hiring drivers who are a fit for the business and who have a passion for being an integral part of a student’s educational experience. Hiring for fit will help ensure that you increase driver retention, which lowers cost and churn, and increases engagement. Hiring for fit requires a multichannel approach that considers the unique skills and mission-driven mindset of this workforce. Some effective strategies include: 

Employee referral programs 

Few things are as compelling to a potential driver as the recommendation of a current team member, offering a glimpse inside your company as well as the chance to work with a friend. A referral program rewards trusted employees for bringing in successful candidates, making it a win-win for both your current team and the new drivers they help recruit. 

Social media 

Social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn can be powerful tools for recruiting bus drivers. Partnering with district leadership and community organizations to promote posts can greatly increase the reach of your social media campaigns, attracting a larger pool of potential drivers.  

Social platforms are all about creating a positive employer brand – critical to attracting excellent drivers. This can include putting the spotlight on current team members and offering their testimonials, highlighting your company’s people-centric culture, employee passion about the job, and the impact they have on children’s lives. Hearing employees speak directly and authentically is also a great way to spotlight the company’s technology-based resources, and for sharing information about competitive compensation and benefit packages. 

Job fairs and community events 

Attending job fairs and community events is a great way to meet potential candidates face-to-face and showcase your student transportation business. These events provide an opportunity to share your company’s mission, vision, and values with candidates.  

One successful, innovative approach to community engagement in recruiting is on display with our partner, Krise Transportation. The Krise team developed the HEROES Bus, a mobile recording studio and recruitment station that travels throughout Pennsylvania, visiting bus terminal locations and community events where Krise is based. The HEROES Bus not only highlights the powerful, positive stories of Krise employees, but provides a dedicated meeting space at job fairs, school events, and other public gatherings, allowing the Krise team to reach out to candidates within their own communities. 

Retaining school bus drivers 

Retaining school bus drivers is equally as important as recruiting. Retention is driven by a vibrant, supportive, and engaging work environment where people feel a sense of belonging and a connection to their company’s mission, and where they are respected by leaders who listen and take action. Strategies for retaining school bus drivers can include: 

Investments in technology  

Technology plays a significant role in driver satisfaction and retention. By providing drivers with technology that boosts safety and efficiency, student transportation contractors are investing directly in employee satisfaction and well-being. The right technology makes work easier for drivers and helps keep everyone on board safe. 

Professional development opportunities 

Providing opportunities for professional development can help keep team members engaged and motivated. Some of these career-boosting offerings could include industry-related training courses, structured mentorship programs, or on-the-job learning for other roles within the organization. Offering these opportunities can help drivers build a career and encourage them to stay long-term. Developing and providing career maps that demonstrate what’s needed to and how to move up in the organization can help employees vision the future and start on an engaged path. 

Employee recognition programs 

Recognizing school bus drivers for their hard work and achievements goes a long way in boosting morale and retention rates. School bus contractors should develop formal programs for celebrating employee successes and rewarding great work. Consider setting aside a discretionary budget that allows local leaders and their employees to team-build in their own way – whether that’s a volunteer day in the community, a holiday gift drive, or an employer-sponsored social gathering.  

Competitive compensation and benefits 

There may be higher paying roles in the transportation industry, such as long-haul trucking – but few people seek out a career based on pay alone. Competitive compensation is a must, and asking employees what benefits are most important to them can help direct company resources in the right way.  

Effective recruiting and retention start with a competitive base compensation package that includes a market-based hourly rate, bonuses for attendance and safety, and opportunities for extra hours (where available) that can help employees earn to their lifestyle needs.  

Consider employee feedback and develop a range of options that are attractive to your specific demographics. These might include options for medical, dental, and vision insurance, retirement savings plans, life and disability insurance, and Employee Assistance Plans (EAP) for mental health. Drivers want to know that they’re being compensated fairly, and that their employer values them and their unique skillset.  

In these stressful times (at home and at work), an EAP can be a very effective benefit and employee support tool. Many companies overlook this as a real benefit, but our experience is that employees value this resource highly. An EAP can provide support to team members who face difficulties, whether work-related or not, including eldercare and childcare, substance abuse, and financial or legal issues. 

Access to resources 

Student transportation providers who invest in people, processes, and technology are often better equipped to attract and retain employees. These key improvements are often made possible through partnership with an investor that can provide access to resources and a plan for growth. 

Building an employee-centric organization 

Support for drivers and other employees includes all the factors we discuss above, but it also includes actively building an employee-centric organization. Two key ways to do this are: 

Communication and feedback 

One important way contractors can demonstrate their commitment to drivers is by seeking out feedback and suggestions. Encouraging open communication, soliciting employee feedback via annual engagement surveys, and acting on employee suggestions helps drivers and other employees feel heard and valued.  

Commitment to the mission 

Student transportation is a mission-driven industry, and the company culture of a school bus contractor must reflect this. In fact, we believe it’s critical for retaining school bus drivers. While culture starts with the employer-employee relationship, it goes far beyond to include our commitment to students, school districts, and the broader community. 

Employees recognize and appreciate a company culture that’s committed to the mission of creating and maintaining reliable, efficient, and safe transportation programs. 

Next steps: Contact us  

Ready to start the valuation process for your school transportation business? Reach out to us. 

American Student Transportation Partners (ASTP) is driving the future of student transportation services.

ASTP is a national network of trusted transportation partners ensuring access to education through safe, reliable student transportation programs. Exceptional school bus operators choose ASTP because of our innovative approach to partnership, as well as the resources we provide to help “future-proof” their operations.

To learn more about partnering with ASTP, contact Tod Eskra, President, at [email protected] or (314) 560-5946.