With the economy still sluggish, exceedingly high unemployment rates have stymied nearly every state across the U.S. For some motorcoach operators looking to hire new drivers or other staff, this has expanded the candidate pool.
However, that doesn't mean that coach carriers are skimping on recruitment or training. In fact, operators are sticking with stringent screening and training practices to save money. To retain employees, they say that money isn't always the best solution. Knowing how to select the best drivers to begin with reduces waste of time and money further down the line.
Shoring up talent
Brian Parker, safety director of Seattle-based MTR Western, says hiring and hanging on to skilled employees in the current economic climate has enabled them to do less recruiting and review more inquiries. "We've gone from seeking, recruiting and trying to develop drivers to having a better selection," Parker says.
The skill set of the individual looking for a position now, Parker adds, has dramatically improved. "That's indicative of some pretty talented people, who are finding themselves for any number of reasons unemployed, wanting to make a change," he says.
MTR uses online job boards, including Monster, Career Builder and Transit Talent, but still primarily relies on word of mouth. "Our drivers are our best recruiters. We offer employees cash referral incentives. [We want to] make sure that the people who come to work here are consistent with the people that are already working here in terms of ability, passion and focus," says Parker. The carrier also participates in employment trade shows, visits college campuses, and seeks out people who are looking for summer or seasonal employment.
To help support its 2010 Vancouver Olympics work last February, MTR hired nearly 45 employees, 25 of whom were drivers. "We were competing with every other [coach] operation in addition to the transit districts and the Olympic Committee for drivers. We didn't have any trouble finding people to work for us. We had really great people, some of whom we've kept on," Parker explains. Aside from its work on the Olympics, MTR hired approximately 15 drivers in the last two years.
Glenelg, Md.-based Eyre Bus currently employs 60 drivers and has made 15 new hires in the past year. Even in today's market and unemployment rates, the carrier is contending with a driver shortage. Michael McDonal, director of safety, says that the operator is looking to hire six to 10 drivers.
Eyre's most successful tool for recruiting is a driver video on YouTube that they initially developed into a television commercial a few years ago. It has proven very effective and inexpensive, reaching the popular Website's audience: 99 percent of applicants say they found Eyre Bus through the Internet. "They're not listening to the radio, reading newspaper ads and, quite frankly, the few ads that we've run have brought in drivers that were much less than desirable," McDonal says.
"You would think that with the unemployment rate we have today, drivers would be falling all over you for a job," he adds. "Unfortunately [many] that come in are unqualified for what we do," In particular, he points to truck drivers, who may not be used to dealing with people on a regular basis. "I say, 'Our freight talks back.' They think you just get behind the wheel, drive from point A to point B and you're done. In the charter business, driving is half the job. It's your interaction with [people] that really make a difference. It takes a special kind of person to do this work, because it's not easy."
Gwen Elmore, president of Virginia Beach, Va.-based Fun Tours, has had a different experience. "It used to be difficult to get enough good drivers. That doesn't seem to be the case now," she says. "I think a lot of our competitors have gone out of business, so those people are applying and we're getting to choose the better [candidates]."
Last fall, Fun Tours landed a government contract that required them to run two buses to a location, round-the-clock, for three-and-a-half months. "We did solicit new drivers during that period and decided to keep a few when demand went down," Elmore says.
The most critical factor in recruiting and retaining drivers is being honest with them up front, McDonal says. The most important step he takes with each applicant is to emphasize in the interview that the job is not nine-to-five, or Monday-to-Friday. "It can be a very rewarding career, but a lot of hard work. I can paint you the prettiest picture in the world of this company, and it will all be absolutely true, but I'd rather tell you the reality of being a professional motorcoach operator.'"