90% of school districts and school transportation companies across North America have experienced a driver shortage. Strict industry regulations, safety concerns, low wages and sometimes even negative public perception of driving buses keep people from entering the field. At the same time, school transportation faces a high turnover rate with the best employees jumping from one company to another. Recruiting and training new drivers is more expensive than retaining existing personnel, and the lack of qualified workforce forces transportation managers to figure out how to keep their best people. And raising the salary range might not be the deal breaker here: some other factors like low employee engagement or lack of respect at work can be drawing your workforce away. So, what can be done to resolve that?
To discuss strategies on how to engage employees and solve the problem of driver retention, we talked to Jim Switzer, Owner of Switzer-Carty Transportation (Burlington, ON), one of those rare transportation companies that have a waiting list of potential employees vs. a shortage. The company has a great corporate culture, built on Switzer`s and his co-founder Doug Carty`s belief that people are the main asset of the organization.
Having the Right Focus
“When Doug Carty and I established the company in 2011, our main focus was on building a team where people will be treated with dignity and respect, not as a number,” says Jim Switzer. “We wanted to create a business based on delivering a service promise to our customers, providing safe and efficient transportation to school districts while at the same time caring about our employees.”
Switzer-Carty Transportation was founded with 60 buses five years ago, and now the company has grown to 900 buses operated by a great team. Both co-founders, Jim Switzer and Doug Carty, have extensive experience in the school transportation industry and a vision that a relentless focus on people and customers will ensure continued success.
“Since the establishment of the company, we’ve never had trouble recruiting drivers or our full time staff,” explains Switzer. “In fact, now we have a waiting list of employees. Our best recruiting mechanism has always been our people. We’ve never advertised our open positions using standard media channels, as word-of-mouth has worked much better for us. What attracts people to work for us is the reputation of the company. If you compare us with our competitors, we all buy the same buses, the same fuel and the same equipment. What sets us apart is our corporate culture and efficiency of our team.”
Today, Switzer-Carty Transportation transports over 70,000 students per day, providing safe transportation services throughout the province of Ontario.
Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk
The right strategy of focusing on people at the beginning was supported by practice. Since 2011, Switzer-Carty Transportation has implemented certain processes and policies that helped build a strong team that understands the current priorities of the business and cares about their work.
Switzer explains that the company has always had an open door policy for employees. “We have competitive salaries for the same type of business in Canada, but some of our competitors do too. Over the years that we have worked in the industry, we’ve noticed that when drivers select an employer, pay is important, but it’s not the driving factor. It is also meaningful for the employee to be engaged in business, to have ownership in their job, to take pride in what he/she does and to be treated well. That’s why a high level of communication with our team, being open and honest, is the key for us.”
“We have regular town hall meetings, where we explain what we need to focus on as a team, what’s new or what’s going to change, and how we are planning to do certain things,” continues Switzer. “In addition to that, we regularly ask for both customer and employee feedback to check on our efficiency and corporate culture, to see what we can improve in our operations and communication.”
As almost everywhere in the industry, the majority of drivers at Switzer-Carty Transportation work a split morning/afternoon shift. The company has both part-time and full-time employees. “From our previous industry experience, we know how hard it is to find a good driver and what it takes to keep the best people,” says Switzer. “So, that is why we focus on investing in our team. For example, we offer benefits to our part-time employees, comprehensive hands-on driver improvement training with real-life scenarios, and opportunities to grow with us.”
Inspiring Corporate Culture
Switzer says that “culture beats strategy every time”, that’s why focusing on the needs of both customers and employees helps Switzer-Carty Transportation be successful in what they do.
“We are extremely proud of our people. They all come from different cultures and backgrounds and each of them has brought something unique to our team. Together we created a very positive corporate culture. I am not the main guy in the office, I am not driving 900 buses. Our people, they are the most important people here. And they are best at what they do. A lot of our employees have worked with us since the establishment of the company in 2011. One example is Dan Maradin, our Vice President of Operations. His broad experience in the industry, combined with great leadership abilities, has helped us excel at customer service and create an efficient operation. We also have the best Branch managers in the industry on our team.”
For Switzer-Carty Transportation, transparency and openness is not just internal, it’s key for building trust with customers and job applicants. Switzer explains, “Once we had an open house at our office and a driver came up to me and asked how it is to work here. I told him “I won’t ask you to trust me as the CEO of the company; you’d better go talk to our people and see if they like working here.” So, he went to talk to our drivers and then came back to me thanking me for giving that advice. That conversation helped him to grasp the culture of the company and he decided to apply for the job.”
Treating people with dignity and respect, and uniting them with a common goal to serve customers in the most efficient way to deliver our service promise, is the key principle of Switzer-Carty Transportation that helps the company move forward.
And what methods and strategies does your company/team use to attract and retain drivers? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or join a conversation on our social networks.
Marketing Coordinator | Seon