Anyone in the student transportation industry knows success comes down to people: dispatchers, monitors, technicians, and – the HEROES of our organization – school bus drivers. A career in student transportation requires a unique set of skills, as well as a commitment to the community and the precious cargo onboard.
So, how can aspiring professionals build a satisfying, long-term career? Here are some of the most important steps anyone can take to develop the technical and interpersonal skills to be a successful student transportation professional.
Research the industry
First, familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of student transportation. This can include the different types of vehicles, various roles, required training, typical hours, and the overall work environments. If you know people working with a local school bus contractor, ask about their experiences. What do they love about their jobs, and what is most challenging?
Obtain necessary training and certifications
If you don’t have experience driving a school bus, don’t worry! This is an easy problem to solve. In fact, many school bus contractors offer paid training. It’s about aptitude and attitude. While requirements may differ a little from state to state, for the purposes of this article we’re focusing on Pennsylvania, home of our partner, Krise Transportation.
Potential drivers should plan on completing all of the following1:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Pass a physical using the School Bus Driver’s Physical Examination Form, which will be given to you by your prospective employer.
- Apply for a Commercial Learner’s Permit with PennDOT.
- Pass a vision screening and knowledge tests, including (but not limited to) the Commercial General Knowledge Test, Passenger Endorsement, School Bus Endorsement, and Air Brakes, if applicable.
- Complete a minimum of 20 hours of school bus-specific instruction, which includes at least 14 hours of classroom training and at least 6 hours of in-bus training.
- Pass a road test that includes pre-trip inspection, performance of basic maneuvers, and on-road driving. This also requires a simulated student discharge and a simulated or actual railroad crossing.
- Pass a criminal history check conducted by the Pennsylvania State Police and a child abuse history check conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Resources, as required by Pennsylvania law.
To gain first-hand experience and a deeper understanding of student transportation, consider working as a school bus monitor. This role allows you to learn about safety procedures, how to work with students, and what it’s like onboard a school bus.
If you have a driver’s license but don’t yet have certification to drive a bus, look into being a van driver. This is a great role for anyone who likes working with kids but is perhaps just starting out in student transportation. You’ll still need to meet requirements like background checks, but it’s an excellent choice for anyone seeking fulfilling work.
For those more interested in a non-driving career, consider a dispatcher or office manager role. And of course, experienced mechanics can build a satisfying career in the school bus industry – especially if they expand their training to include EVs and other alternative-fuel vehicles.
Build up your people skills
People skills are often referred to as “soft skills,” but we want to make clear how crucial they are to any successful student transportation professional. In a people-first organization like ours, these are key qualities every employee should develop and consistently improve on:
- Communication: Develop excellent communication skills, so you can interact confidently with students, coworkers, families, and school staff.
- Patience and an upbeat attitude: You’re often the first and last person kids see on a school day (besides their families), so offering a smile and some understanding can go a long way in making their day – and yours – a success.
- Problem-solving: Cultivate problem-solving skills so you’re ready when you encounter unexpected challenges related to traffic, weather, student behavior, or even equipment breakdown.
- Attention to detail: Student safety is paramount, so attention to detail is an important skill for inspecting vehicles, driving safely, and ensuring compliance with all regulations.
- Teamwork: It’s all about teamwork! If you’re naturally the kind of person who’s ready to jump in if a co-worker needs a hand, you’re a strong candidate for student transportation. Many team members at Krise Transportation say the camaraderie and “family feel” is their favorite part of their work.
Network and build relationships
If you can, attend industry events, seminars, and conferences – even online – to network with current industry professionals and learn about the latest trends and opportunities in student transportation.
Seek career advancement opportunities
Show dedication to your role by consistently providing safe, reliable transportation to students. As you earn the trust of your employer – and your community – watch for opportunities to move into supervisory or management positions within the company. Don’t be afraid to approach your supervisor and express your interest, as well as ask what you should work on to improve your chances of moving up.
We saved the best for last: Prioritize the safety of students above all. As a driver, your commitment to safety comes through in your pre-trip checks, adherence to safety rules and protocols, and enthusiasm for learning opportunities and ongoing training.
Building a career in student transportation requires a genuine concern for student welfare, a commitment to safety, and a strong work ethic. Through education, experience, and relationship-building, aspiring professionals can establish themselves in this vital and rewarding industry.
If you are seeking a career in student transportation, reach out to us. We’d love to learn more about you.
American Student Transportation Partners (ASTP) is a national network of reliable student transportation providers. We’re driving the future of student transportation by providing access to education through safe, dependable student transportation programs. Exceptional 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 call (314) 560-5946.