Recruiting: Time for a new ‘model’

By Debbie Curtis

When the highest profile image of a bus driver is The Honeymooners‘ Jackie Gleason, it’s perhaps time for a new public role model, says Rob Swarthout of Swarthout Coaches in Ithaca, N.Y.

The popular show about the short-tempered driver for the fictional Gotham Bus Company in New York City went off the air in 1956—before most of the parents of today’s largest generation in the workforce were born. But the challenge in recruiting the millennial generation to motorcoach careers goes well beyond image.

It’s time for a new model for driver recruitment that fits today’s workforce.

According to the Pew Research Center, millennials (with an estimated population of 83 million) have now surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation in the workforce. Among the challenges in reaching that worker pool is constraints placed by regulatory agencies and insurance companies.

“We can’t hire a driver under twenty-five years old,” he said. “The charter industry is losing out when someone who is in their early twenties wants to do this for a living, and they’re told to come back when they’re a little older.”

Sporadic scheduling also poses a problem to workers starting young families. There are Sundays when every bus is out, and on Monday not a wheel is turning. That makes it difficult for those drivers with families, especially those with custody arrangements, to see their children.

Other issues pose complications, too, among them the increasing legalization of marijuana by states, a situation in serious conflict with most companies’ drug test requirements. Even after he raised pay by $3 an hour and increased vacation time, Swarthout said, the drug testing requirement has discouraged many potential applicants.

“Since marijuana is legalized in some states, but is illegal under federal law, it creates problems with drivers passing drug tests. A driver can get roaring drunk on Sunday afternoon and be okay to drive on Monday. Marijuana users would fail a drug test for days afterward.”

That’s been a problem too for Ryan Benjamin, sales manager for Premier Charters in Colorado. Our fleet manager has mentioned legalized marijuana being one of the hiring difficulties for us, he said. Retention is tough, too, he said, noting a driver might jump ship for a dollar an hour. That’s tough with unemployment hovering around four percent, giving drivers many options. And if a company gets one applicant a month “we’re jumping up and down.”

Is this group disenchanted with over-the-road careers, or are the other factors to blame for the ongoing driver shortage? That’s something experts and hiring managers are still wrestling with.

While previous generations placed a high value on saving for that first car or starter home, millennials are more apt to ride public transportation. They also value experiences over material goods, according to public surveys, making a job involving on the road travel potentially appealing. But hiring managers need to look at other factors valued by the generation and adapt, says Chris Goebel, president of Crossroads Advisers.

“We’re no longer in the area where we can track a track a lot of the baby boomers because of their aging every day,” said Goebel, who will moderate the roundtable discussion about recruitment and retention at the 2019 UMA Motorcoach Expo Jan. 6-10 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We need to look at generation X or the millennials as our next pool of drivers, and to reach them we need to cater to what is important to them.”

He says research shows company culture and quality of life are important to this demographic. That means a company that values and appreciates them, and one that offers flexible schedules so they have more say when they work weekends and nights.

It used to be revenue was driven by the number of vehicles a company had to put on the road. Now, it’s the driver pool.

Theresa Robinson, who recruits for Star of America in Jeffersonville, In., said that as older drivers retire, the goal would be to get millennials involved and keep them by the same methods they’d keep any other driver.

“We try to keep drivers by paying them a living wage. We have a family culture here, and we want our drivers and their families to do well.”


For more insights into driver recruiting, be sure to attend the presentation on Monday, January 7, at 11:15 a.m. during UMA’s EXPO 2019 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. For additional details, visit


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