According to the University of Kansas Transportation Center for Rural Transit Providers, “One of the best ways to retain drivers is to eliminate unnecessary job stress. Bus-driving, by nature, can be stressful, but there are some small changes you can make to help retain employees. Continuous training rather than short-term, intensive training when an employee is first hired is another way to retain workers. If you give your employees the opportunity to be creative and learn new skills, they will think of their jobs as an opportunity for advancement instead of stagnation.”
In a 2015 report to the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina State Board of Education came to similar conclusions. But they further found that their difficulty retaining school bus drivers often came down to stress: “Many drivers realize that trying to balance the demands of driving a large bus safely with up to seventy students behind them is not a job they can handle long-term.” They recommend addressing this through enhanced and ongoing training.
Bus Training Simulators Increase Driver Retention
Zerry Hogan, an expert in transit and transportation training and simulation, previously served as the simulation and training project manager for the LYNX Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority. During that time, he led LYNX’s shift to use a bus training simulator for ongoing operator training. Hogan found an almost 70% decrease in accidents for operators trained on the simulator, and a 35% improvement in new-hire retention.
“Poor training leads to attrition,” Hogan points out. First, a driver underprepared for the challenges of the job is more likely to leave. Then, being understaffed, “you’ve got to catch up your numbers,” Hogan continues “so you bump up your numbers, and now you’ve got a bad student to instructor ratio,” further overburdening that training program. “Ideally you have four students in a bus at most—one in the seat and three observing. Now, trying to catch up, you might have a one-to-seven ratio.”
The instructor already must divide his or her attention between the novice student at the wheel and what’s going on outside the bus. “You can easily get into an accident if you don’t watch that student very carefully, giving them instruction. Now you’re losing your training value because those other students just can’t be as engaged.”
In a simulator, the physical risk to the students, equipment, and other motorists is entirely removed. You can pause the simulation at any time, ask the trainee why they made the decision they did, engage other observing students in the discussion, and then run it again. And again. And again, until a rare and potentially dangerous possibility is reduced to an almost automatic evasive maneuver.
Bus Training Simulators Recognize the Complexity of the Job
Hogan also firmly believes that having an ongoing simulation-based training program has another benefit. He started out in the defense industry, teaching weapons systems to pilots, and points out that operating a bus is a job that is as challenging, in many regards, as flying an airplane with the added social challenges of customer service and passenger management. But no one grants bus driver the level of esteem they lavish on pilots. Making technological investments in an ongoing simulator training program, “shows that your organization is forward thinking; we’re not doing, for lack of a better term, ‘horse & buggy’ training.”