P.E.I.'s Public School Branch (PSB) needs to keep the wheels on its buses going round and round – especially considering it's running low on bus drivers.
To help recruit more, it started its own driver training program last year, which was partly put in place as a result of COVID-19.
Many bus drivers would speak to how rewarding it is ensuring P.E.I. students arrive at school safely, transportation supervisor Mike Franklin said.
"They treat the kids like they were their own."
Dave Gillis, the PSB's transportation director, said the program has already seen its first few graduates during a virtual board of directors meeting on Feb. 10. P.E.I. has about 250 drivers, many of whom are reaching retirement age, he said.
Up until now, the PSB had relied on JVI Driver Training to train drivers and provide the license necessary to operate a bus, but the pandemic forced JVI's courses to temporarily shut down. As a result, the PSB had a six- to eight-month period without any new drivers coming in.
"Our pipeline was completely dry," Gillis said. "(And) we foresee a strong retirement of drivers in the future."
Franklin was brought in to help develop and run the program – he has taught similar courses before and can grant the license. He noted that they're still working with JVI, but that JVI has other groups it's committed to helping, such as the French Language School Board or the P.E.I. Regiment.
"We're just trying to help them out," he said.
TAKING A TURN:
• In a field of work that has typically consisted of mostly male workers, the Public School Branch's Mike Franklin has noticed a shift based on who's applying to be a bus driver.
• Of his training program's last 12 students, nine of them were female, he said, adding "I think it's about time."
By training bus drivers itself, the PSB can ensure the gaps being left by retiring drivers are filled and that there are enough substitute drivers on hand if regular drivers need time off.
"We're willing to put the money up to train them," Franklin said, noting the PSB will waive the program's cost of about $3,000 as long as applicants agree to work for at least 10 months after they are trained.
That’s because a bus driver’s licence also allows drivers to operate other vehicles, such as dump trucks, meaning many drivers could end up looking to other industries for work.
The course has two elements – in-class that focuses on the technical elements of driving a bus and in-the-field that focuses on the practical elements of actually driving it.
Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. Twitter.com/dnlbrown95