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Bus company starts winter Facebook challenge to help hire drivers

You hear a lot about the bus driver shortage at the beginning of the school year, but the holiday season also sees a dip.

WAYZATA, Minn. — At the beginning of the school year, bus company First Student was short around 200 drivers across Minnesota. Area safety manager Jenifer Doyle says, since then, they've filled about half of the vacancies.

"We have had steady hiring, which is good," Doyle said. 

Despite the progress, a dip is expected over the holiday season or shortly after. Doyle says bus companies typically see turnover this time of year.

"Whether it's because people take a seasonal position and then they decide to stay with that other job – we also have a lot of employees that, they're snowbirds, they head down to Florida for winter," Doyle said. 

"In the fall, it's front of mind because everyone says, 'Oh, I've seen the commercials, it's back-to-school, I should be a school bus driver,' but then we get to Christmas and it's like, 'Hey, there's still a lot of school left,' but people forget that that is a job [they] could take right now," she continued.

The company is now trying something new to both recruit drivers and thank those already hired.

"Driver Appreciation Challenge," Doyle explained. "We created a Minnesota Facebook page and on that page, there is a group for all 11 of our locations."

People in the community are encouraged to visit the main First Student Minnesota Facebook page, where all of the groups are listed, and join at least one – ideally the location nearest to where they live. Then, the location that gets the most members to join by the end of January, will win a pizza party for its employees and "huge bragging rights." 

But the real prize, Doyle says, is giving more people a glimpse of what school bus driver life is like.

"We do a lot of fundraisers, not just this time of year but we do toy drives and food drives," she said. "If we're having weather days and delays, we're going to be sharing that information … We're part of your community."

They hope the images and information posted to each group throughout the year will lead to better staffing, which would mean getting more kids safely to and from school as well as field trips.

"If it has crossed your mind that it might be something you want to do, hit us up," Doyle said.

Like most bus companies experiencing a driver shortage, First Student is offering a sign-on bonus. Current rates are $22-27 per hour with a $3,000 sign-on bonus.

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