Recruiting and retaining employees has never been an easy task within the bus and motorcoach industry. Then came the pandemic, which nearly devastated the industry. Nearly two years later, bus and motorcoach companies are finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
But to keep that light shining, businesses need to work harder than ever to both hire and retain quality employees.
COVID-19 Leads to Driver Shortages & Revenue Loss
The American Bus Association Foundation released its First Quarter 2022 Motorcoach Builders Survey in May, and according to data from John Dunham & Associates for the American Bus Foundation, motorcoach manufacturers continue to face major challenges post-pandemic.
According to an ABAF press release, the bus industry was moving more than 600 million passengers a year before the pandemic. At the beginning of 2022, however, passenger volumes were still down by 62%, making it one of the hardest-hit parts of the economy.
According to the release, new motorcoach sales in the first quarter of 2022 were 11% above the first quarter of 2021, but sales are still well below what they were before the onset of COVID. Overall, the three-month moving average of total coach sales is down by about 30% from the last month before the COVID pandemic.
“The motorcoach industry is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic,” said Peter Pantuso, ABA Foundation president, in the release. “When motorcoaches aren’t running the trickledown effect on suppliers is devastating. As the industry struggles to rebound from the past two years, we are hopeful sales will also improve. However, it could [be] well into 2024 and beyond before we see a true comeback for the industry.”
Making matters even more difficult, the industry was seeing a driver shortage before the pandemic.
Driver recruitment and retention specialist Lynn SansoneVice President of the consulting firm, On your Mark Transportation, LLC, explained that post-pandemic, the problem is getting worse.
“We’ve lost a lot of drivers to other industries,” Sansone says. “They had to get by during COVID, and with so many operators completely shutting down, drivers were forced to leave the industry.”
How Can Companies Recruit Drivers & Retain Them?
Sansone says owners and managers need to up their game when it comes to driver recruitment. While the old ways of doing things – posting on job boards and job recruitment websites – is still important, more focus should shift to social media and bonuses, she explains.
There are several driver groups on Facebook, and that’s a good place to start, Sansone says.
“Owners and managers need to get involved in these driver groups. This will give you key insight into what the drivers are thinking and what they are looking for,” Sansone adds.
These pages are also great places to share job openings – and to find drivers who might be looking for jobs.
When it comes to posting job openings, make sure you’re responsive, Sansone suggests. And although it may seem like an obvious suggestion, be sure your responses are kind and respectful. A timely response is also important. Drivers will not wait days for a response to their questions, she adds.
“Competition is fierce, and you need to do everything you can to stand out,” Sansone says.
Owners may also need to recruit drivers to come in on a part-time basis, especially since many previous employees might now be working in other industries.
“As always, don’t allow dispatchers to play favorites, or have some drivers sitting more than others,” Sansone says. “If you hire part-time, be careful not to overhire and leave some sitting. And as things pick up and grow, you can get employees more full-time when they can sustain a living again as a professional driver,” she adds.
Next up: sign-on bonuses. Sign-on bonuses are a great way to recruit new drivers. Even better, utilize your current drivers to help recruit. Drivers can use the bonuses as a tool to help them recruit other drivers they meet who want information on your company.
“Owners and managers will go farther by using their current employees’ connections,” Sansone says. Their drivers will likely know others in the industry, and if they are happy in their job, they can share that with others. Often, drivers who are not happy with their own company will come to your bus with your driver to ask how they like working for your organization. If your driver can let this possible recruit know your company is offering a sign-on bonus, that will help catch the ear of the recruit.
This speaks to the next key point, says Sansone – taking care of your current employees.
Keeping your employees happy is important to retention.
“People like to be heard,” says Sansone. “Talking to your current drivers, listening to their ideas, getting their feedback. These are all things you can do to help them feel like they are being heard.”
Sansone suggests bringing in an outside firm to sit and ask questions about the current driver pool. “Drivers will feel they can be more open if they can give their opinion to an outsider in an anonymous way,” she says. “Many times, we hear, and you will see on Facebook posts, that drivers feel companies will play favorites with work assignments, or other issues that owners and managers may not be aware of.”
Owners might also consider offering referral bonuses to employees who bring in new drivers. One way of facilitating this, Sansone suggests, might be printing business cards for your employees that they can then pass on to possible recruits for their referral bonus. These business cards should have the contact’s name, number, and email address of the person in charge of driver recruitment in your organization. Even better, they should include your drivers’ names on them.
Business cards are fairly inexpensive, but if you don’t want to go that far, Sansone suggests leaving a blank where the driver can write in their name and other possible contact information. Remember, these cards may be the first introduction that a recruit has to your company. If they look low quality, like they were printed on a home computer, you are leaving the impression that the recruit isn’t worth the time and money to do things right.
It is also important that the company pays the referral bonuses that they offer their drivers, or the company runs the risk of losing the recruit, as well as their current driver.
Praise Good Work for Increased Retention
More than ever, it is important to “catch” a driver doing positive things for your organization, Sansone explains.
So many companies have a wall filled with “Don’t do this” type memos, with items telling drivers what they cannot do. How about a “Wall of Fame” filled with thank-you notes from customers, or other positive items, she suggests. Ask your drivers to share their pictures from their trips so you can post them on your social media. If you see them post something positive in one of the driver groups, ask if you can share it on your company page, as well.
Speaking of social media, what does your company’s social media say about your organization? Many recruits will do their inspection of your company by reading your social media posts and looking at your website. Is your website up to date? Are you posting consistently about positive things on social media? Most importantly, is your social media clear of any political or religious leaning? You may not be in favor of a particular political party or religious group, but those thoughts should never cross into your company’s social media, Sansone says.
Also to consider: are your website and social media platforms full of pictures of your pretty buses, or do you show happy employees involved in activities, too?
Making sure you have positive reviews is also imperative. Are you using Google My Business, where customers can leave positive reviews about your organization? When an employee comes to you to say they were happy with something you did for them, you may want to ask if they can post a positive review about your organization. This is important for other places as well, such as Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com, she explains.
Another possibility might be for the large bus and motorcoach associations to offer scholarships to get people interested in the industry, Sansone suggests.
“Possibly paid training or scholarships to pay for your CDL or medical certification,” she says. “These might be ways to a least get some interest.”
Listen to your employees
As previously stated, listening to current employees is a key way to keep them happy in their jobs. Owners might also consider offering retention bonuses as an incentive to keep current employees on board.
“It’s so hard right now because we don’t know what lies ahead,” Sansone says. “And while things are starting to pick up, we are only at about 50% capacity right now. We all are just learning together. But the driver groups are just amazing because you can learn what people are thinking out there. And that’s so important. Owners and operators need to listen and respond to what’s important to drivers.”
What About the Cost?
“When it comes to bonuses, it’s surprising how far a little appreciation goes,” Sansone says. “Recruiting bonuses are paid out over time, not all at once, so if the new recruit helps you to run equipment that would have been sitting, they are helping to bring in new work.”
Now is the time to set your rate accordingly so you can pay competitive wages and all the extras, such as retention and recruitment bonuses.
And train your office sales staff to be salespeople, and not just “order takers.” There are things your company does to service your customers, and your staff needs to make those distinctions clear to your clients, and not just drop your price to meet the competition.
“So many of these suggestions, other than the bonuses, are low-cost, or no cost,” Sansone says. “Maintaining your website and keeping up with your social media, returning phone calls, and responding to emails don’t cost you anything but time, and they will all pay dividends when those buses are rolling with an increased driver pool.”
On Your Mark Transportation LLC is a consulting firm for the ground passenger transportation industry. This article was written by Amy Nixon, who writes press releases and blog content for their clients. Vice President Lynn Sansone helps clients with driver recruitment. With experience in transit, school bus, luxury transportation, and motorcoaches, OYMT can bring a full range of extra services to an organization.