School bus hiring goes ‘hands-on’

Minnesota students are heading back to school in about a month and some bus companies are getting creative with recruiting bus drivers to combat lingering shortages.

First Student bus company held a recruiting event at Fridley High School on Thursday allowing anyone with a driver’s license to test drive a bus and get a feel for the job.

Angelo Annunciation spent his day taking a spin in a school bus, but not as a student.

“I didn’t really expect to do it today, but it was pretty fun,” he said. The 20-year-old practiced driving on a closed course in a Fridley High School parking lot with a trainer riding shotgun.
“I’ve never driven a bus before and I was able to do it with the five-minute crash course he [the trainer] gave me,” Annunciation said.

It’s a hands-on experience.

People got to experience what it’s like to sit in the driver’s seat and drive a school bus with no experience needed.

“Anyone can get in a bus and drive it just to find out that it’s not as intimidating as it might seem with these large vehicles,” Behnjamin Mensem, First Student bus company driver and dispatcher said.

The event is called “Big Bus, No Big Deal.”

Company organizers said the goal is to drive people to apply to be a bus driver because the shortage still lingers.

“I think the unique challenges that we’ve dealt with since 2020 kind of opened up a lot of creative resolutions on how we go about logistics,” Mensem said. 

Companies are thinking outside the box to get new drivers inside the bus.

“We’re hitting the pavement. We’re putting up signs. We’re talking to people. We’re at a lot of community events,” John O’Laughlin, Schmitty & Sons project manager, said. “We have a very active social media page. We are also doing a little bit in the TikTok world.”

The business put a new spin on recruiting events all summer and now they’re adding a new school to their bus routes.

“I’m 100% optimistic about where we are right now. A few years ago it was tougher and I think things have gotten better,” O’Laughlin said.

He said they’re in a good spot, but they’re always looking for new drivers to bring on board.

Schmitty & Sons is holding its 2nd annual transportation fair at their Burnsville division on Aug. 16 from 4-8 p.m. to recruit more bus drivers and interact with the community. First Student bus company is holding another hands-on “Big Bus, No Big Deal” event on Saturday, Aug. 20 at their Oakdale location.