Bus operator recruitment

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RTD Denver has used ads like this one when holding job fairs.


Hiring bus operators is an essential function of managing a transit operation. With unemployment under 5%[1], businesses across the country are experiencing a shortage of qualified applicants. Transit agencies sometimes struggle to recruit employees. In cases where agencies do have applicants, they need to know how to ensure that they make the best hires. Effective advertising and competitive wages and benefits can help with recruitment, and a robust hiring and orientation process can help agencies select the right people and get them started on a path toward success.

Attracting Applicants

A crucial component of attracting good candidates is offering competitive wages and benefits. Getting the message out about what is being offered is equally important. Agencies should advertise in attention-grabbing ways with messaging about the advantages of the job. Avoid overly wordy advertisements and focus on the key details, especially where to find more information. Job advertisements have traditionally been listed in the local newspaper, and other related opportunities exist such as local weeklies and alternative papers.

The internet is a significant tool for job hunters. Agencies may advertise on websites such as the local craigslist, local news sources, partner agency websites, local blogs, and of course the agency's own website. Paid advertising also exists and can help job seekers find your opportunity quickly by targeting ads based on user's searches. Agencies with an urgent need to fill positions should consider paid opportunities. Use of social media such as Facebook can also help spread the word about job vacancies.

Local access TV may provide another low cost alternative.

Consider the size and placement of the ad in any media. Agencies may be tempted to constrain the job advertising budget. If hiring needs are urgent, low-cost ad placement may produce slim results. The advantage of savings over more expensive ads could be lost by a lengthy advertising process, especially if the agency is already understaffed.

Another creative option is to use advertising on the exterior of agency vehicles such as supervisor or utility vans. These may stand out from other vehicles in traffic and catch the eyes of potential applicants. Advertising could be printed on a large magnet for reusability, or printed as a vinyl application.

Encourage bus operators to participate in the recruitment process. Naturally some job seekers will find and question current bus operators about the job. Informed and friendly bus operators can help attract quality candidates. Consider providing employee referral bonuses.

Retaining Applicants Through Hiring

Once an agency has hired the right people, it needs to keep them. Agencies identify losing strong candidates as a major concern. Barriers to retention include difficult hours and work days and unpleasant job conditions. Agencies should look to flexible scheduling and foster an inclusive organizational culture to overcome these issues. Agencies can focus their marketing on the many positive aspects of the job opportunity and keep the application process as simple and welcoming as possible, but this should not replace identifying and correcting the institutional shortcomings that lead to attrition.

Initial contact with an agency is crucial in forming opinions for anyone, including applicants. Agency staff should convey the attitude the agency believes will attract the best candidates. If agency staff dislike assisting new applicants or seem unfriendly during the process, some prospective applicants may not continue through the process.

A long and complex application process can scare away prospective applicants by giving a poor impression of the agency. Some agencies have focused on slimming down the application. Consider removing segments such as "Tell us anything else important about yourself" that are more effectively covered in an interview. Other techniques include streamlining the driving record and background check process so the agency handles these tasks instead of the applicant. Although this may be an additional burden on the agency, some agencies have been able to partner with local authorities to expedite the process. Strategies such as these may improve the application process and encourage greater numbers of applicants, but do not necessarily produce better quality applicants.

A recruitment package is a tool which allows the agency to present the job in the best possible light and inform prospective employees about requirements such as drug and alcohol testing. Recruitment packages can be handed out at career fairs, at agency offices, or even on board the bus.


Further Reading

Moffat, G.K., Ashton, A. H., & Blackburn, D.R. (2001). "A Challenged Employment System: Hiring, Training, Performance Evaluation, and Retention of Bus Operators." Transit Cooperative Research Program.

This research synthesis outlines common industry practices in the recruitment and retention process.