Mass transit has an image problem. This is a physically demanding job that is as challenging, in many regards, as flying an airplane without the cultural cachet.
“I come from the defense industry,” explains Zerry Hogan, an expert in transit and transportation training and simulation. “I started out teaching weapons systems officer training to pilots. I can tell you, what a bus driver does is basically what a pilot does, but it doesn’t seem as glamorous.”
On top of that, the equipment itself has grown increasingly intimidating, especially to younger workers. This is most pronounced the case with long-distance motor coaches and extended articulated buses. “Getting behind the wheel of a bus today,” Hogan notes, “it’s like getting into a cockpit.”
As a result, few Millennials (or even Gen Xers) pursue any sort of career in mass transit. New drivers are often retired Boomers looking for a way to “stay active.” These drivers quickly age out of the workforce. Churn is inevitable, driving up costs, and creating driver shortages that have grown critical in many communities.
Bus Simulators and Virtual Training Resonate with Millennials
“Introducing technology, especially with a simulator,” Hogan explains, “brings [Millennials] into an environment they’re used to and interested in. What I’ve found, in some of my training, is that the Millennials are really wooed by coming in and doing high-tech training. That appeals to them. Because, to be honest, classroom training can be kinda boring and somewhat monotonous” when it’s limited to lecture and PowerPoint.
More importantly, the busses themselves and the driving conditions operators face, really demand more than you can get out of a PowerPoint presentation, desktop simulation, or even practicing out on the street.
Even with something as seemingly straightforward as the old yellow school, operating the vehicle is still a highly technical job. As is the case in an airplane cockpit or a police cruiser, there are multiple information streams to juggle-handling the controls, communication with a centralized command hub, tracking the evolving traffic environment (i.e., traffic, pedestrians, weather events, etc).
All of that is complicated by the fundamental realities of piloting a 40,000- to 60,000-pound vehicle that can do huge damage to individuals, vehicles, buildings, and even infrastructure. On top of all that, the very same driver working solo must also perform customer service, monitor passengers, and deescalate tense situations.
It’s not just a cockpit; it’s practically a battlefield. But with a bus simulator, “you can equip a potential employee very fast. You can assess their skills very quickly, and that builds their confidence very quickly.”