by Gloria Welton
A year with COVID-19 restrictions has created a great deal of opportunity for anyone interested in becoming a school bus driver on PEI. Within the next year, there is an anticipated need for 50 to 70 new drivers in our Island school system, with training able to begin immediately.
“Anyone on our substitute drivers list today has a really good chance of getting permanent work,” says Dave Gillis, Director of Transportation and Risk Management with the Public Schools Branch. “Since March of last year, 37 drivers from our substitute pool have been hired in long-term or permanent driving positions.
“We expect that trend to continue and have an obvious and immediate need to replenish our pool of substitute school bus drivers.
“These positions became available to drivers on our substitute list as a result of retirement and other reasons,” says Dave. “Of our 256 permanent school bus drivers, 174 are eligible for retirement within five years. That’s 68 percent, which gives ample opportunity for qualified candidates to first become substitutes and then acquire permanent runs.”
Dave says they need to maintain a substitute list of at least 25 to 30 substitute drivers province wide. “Our substitute list dwindles as fast as we create it. Across the province we are crying for drivers.”
Recruitment, training, and support
Like many Island businesses, in March 2020 JVI Transportation & Safety Academy, the province’s only driver training school, was shut down as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. But this did not stop drivers from retiring or taking leave for one reason or another. In September 2020, JVI came back on stream but is operating in a COVID-restricted capacity.
“JVI is still our primary training provider,” says Dave. “But where our immediate need is sometime greater than the numbers JVI can put through, we have had to implement our own supplemental training program.
“We have worked with the Department of Highway Safety to develop our own curriculum and school bus driver training program to better ensure that good candidates are not lost because of training constraints. Further, we have forged a strong partnership with the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism, and Culture to provide funding in support of training for qualified candidates through SkillsPEI.”
SkillsPEI provides funding to Rural Community Learning Inc. (RCLI) to support costs associated with substitute driver training for eligible applicants. Funding is currently in place until June 2022 to train 68 individuals.
“Applicants who have been successful in the interview process with the Public Schools Branch are required to meet with PEI Career Development Services Inc. to complete the application criteria required by SkillsPEI to determine their eligibility for the funding,” says Sharon Horne, Executive Director of RCLI.
“Applicants who are successful in meeting SkillsPEI application requirements may take the training at JVI at no tuition cost to them. Also, applicants who are in receipt of Employment Insurance benefits will continue to draw their EI while taking the training. Those who do not have Employment Insurance benefits will receive a stipend of $200 a week while taking the training. This stipend is provided through RCLI.”
For additional information regarding the application process and funding options, contact Sharon Horne, Executive Director, RCLI, at 902-853-3715 or 902-853-5720 or email [email protected]
Recruitment and training results
Dave reports that as a result of the campaign to recruit and train individuals, a number of their newest drivers are female. “It is encouraging to see women apply. About one-third of our existing staff are female and that number is growing with each new cohort of trainees.
“We are also seeing an increase in the diversity of our drivers. One challenge for our immigrant population is that they need to hold a valid PEI driver’s license for five years to become eligible. But many have met this requirement and numbers are growing.
“We are proud of these accomplishments, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a huge need to fill these jobs with people who have the ability to drive a bus safely. But just as importantly, they need a strong and caring connection with the kids. We can teach anyone to drive a bus, but not just anyone can be a school bus driver, as that relationship and ability to care for the children is a must.”
Benefits of being a school bus driver
- Make a positive difference in a child’s life
- Many remember their bus driver for their entire lives
- Giving back to the community
- Being a shining example while braving the weather to get kids safely to and from school
- Great for someone with a flexible schedule, ie retired or has their own business
- Excellent opportunity to get your foot in the door as the outlook for full-time employment is very good
- Time off for March break, Christmas, summers. etc. and very few evenings or weekends
- Respected and challenging career with benefits
- Possible financial support for training
Those who have great people skills, enjoy working with kids, care for their safety and have an interest in driving can contact the PSB Board Office for additional information.
The first step to apply is to contact a PSB Transportation Supervisor in your area:
Mike Franklin, Transportation Supervisor East: 902-368-5182 or email [email protected]
Jeremy Lawlor, Transportation Supervisor Central: 902-368-6836 or email [email protected]
Ian Nantes, Transportation Supervisor West: 902-888-8427 or email [email protected]