An Amazing Annual driver training day:
School bus driver training is often tedious. There are qualification tasks, route issues, and repetitive instruction. Because it’s so important to make sure each person we employ is fully qualified, I never find these routine tasks boring or try to hurry people through them. I’m proud of the employees who take qualification seriously.
I can tell, while watching the drivers participate, who is really “getting it” and who is just there because they have to be. The drivers who fully engage are my best and favorite drivers. They are there because they want to be better and do more to keep their students safe. They are the elite.
This particular year we tried something new.
We planned a “Chase” for our drivers. They were assigned seventeen tasks. Each task, with one exception, was designed to teach them something they will need to know during the coming year.
Prior to deciding to embark on our “Chase” I did some research. I called the Wright County Sheriff’s Department and the State Patrol. I contacted the Superintendent of Schools and each building administrator. I talked to a road crew foreman, a few local businesses (the TDS people, Dunn Brothers Coffee), and a couple employees.
Everyone was so enthusiastic about our intent, and thought the “Chase” would be a valuable and creative training tool. Each expert contributed something — a “rule of the game” or a location for an activity or creative input. This “Chase” would be a community effort.
I was excited about the teams of employees. Each team would include people from our various divisions; there would be a regular route driver, a special ed route driver, a trip driver, and a new employee. Each person on the team was there to contribute something important and unique. There would be ten teams in ten buses.
Ten buses, I thought, was a good number. Normally, we send upwards of forty vehicles on the road every day. These ten buses driving through town completing specific tasks would remind our community that SCHOOL IS NEARLY IN SESSION. I received two calls from community members who wondered what the buses were doing. One parent of a Kindergarten student said her daughter was so excited to see the bus coming she squealed!
The first task for each group was to perform the Pre-Trip Inspection during which a driver (in this case a team of drivers) inspects the bus for road worthiness. Our mechanics had deliberately disqualified each bus from road worthiness. We stood and waited to see which teams and which people would find the flaw in their bus.
Some buses were missing Body Fluid Clean-Up or First Aid Kits. Others needed a bulb replaced or didn’t have a fire extinguisher. Each flaw was subtle.
We were all impressed with how seriously the drivers took their Inspections, and by how well-matched the teams were. They all completed their tasks at about the same time and left for the sixteen other tasks.
Each team visited each school in the District to practice am and pm parking. They all went to put five gallons of fuel in their buses. Each team practiced a railroad crossing — important because ours in town are exempt, but they drive to other communities too — and an alley dock — important because most “accidents” occur while backing the bus.
We included two skills that most drivers don’t always experience: a wheel-chair tie down and a bus with a flat tire. We were able to qualify more drivers to expertly tie-down a wheelchair and show them what a flat tire feels and looks like.
Following the event, we studied GPS records to see how each vehicle navigated the various events. One of the rules of the game was that no team could violate a federal, state, local, or company law, rule, or policy. Some teams were much more efficient than others, and no one violated a speed restriction or did anything unsafe in traffic. Kudos to those drivers!
This event was also a team-building event. Our new, rookie employees met four or five other people who work for our company. Teams consisted of employees who rarely have the opportunity to interact. They were expected to share the seventeen tasks and talk to each other about the best way to complete each task.
For the most part, our employees were NOT excited when they left the training room to begin their “Chase”. But they were excited, happy, and brimming with stories when they returned. In fact, I’ve had more input from drivers following this meeting than I have had in the past. We plan to find more ways to give our drivers more hands-on training opportunities in the future.