On Target 2 – Retaining drivers
Our ‘pet’ coach and bus operator this week kicks off proceedings by facing the truth about retaining drivers. If you abuse them you lose them, he says
There are many ‘steering wheel attendants’ who have no pride in their profession and use their licence to fill in between their perceived ‘proper job’ – for example, in the construction industry – but come back when that is in recession. This, to my mind, is one of the fundamental issues our industry faces; driving a bus or coach is often not considered aspiration, rather desperation.
Despite the gloom, not every operator is short of drivers, except maybe in the peak periods, when it just doesn’t make sense to staff to cover Mrs Miggins group who only hires one coach a year. In my experience, it is much easier to cover contract work on a Monday to Friday basis and employ drivers to do just that; more like a ‘normal’ job, with weekends off.
Covering bus and express coach duties comes second in this league table, because at least the antisocial shifts are predictable and can be planned well ahead. Covering coach touring work is predictable, especially for my own programmes, if we don’t cancel, but even that is at least eight weeks out. Given the driver is away from home, it doesn’t suit everyone, but for those whose partner doesn’t mind, it works well. Or perhaps, those who had a partner that did mind and is no longer on the scene… Mind you, I find that a new partner is often acquired on tour, so what goes around, comes around. Not for nothing is On Target Bus and Coach Ltd also known as Dallas on Wheels…
Private hire, that magical word, is where you only know about the job the night before, going from early to late without notice, working a Sunday, when you expected to be off, juggling the driver’s hours rules and catering for ever later bookings. However, even this can be planned, but certainly gives my people the biggest headache.
I don’t have a shortage of drivers although many are aging and, I admit, younger people don’t like the idea of working for me as a bus or coach driver. I also have some drivers I would rather not have, ideally; they do the job, but don’t have the customer skills I want. It is difficult to change someone’s character.
I recently spoke to a driver who has been with me for donkeys’ years; reliable, good driving skills, but as miserable as sin. Always moaning, he never seems happy. On being told all this, he agreed, but said he is only happy when he is miserable and that it was no reflection on the company. I dread to think what he would be like if he was unhappy.
So, what’s the secret to ensuring you have enough drivers and get your fleet out of the gate?
- Treat drivers as the most important asset your business has (after its customers)
- Treat them as individuals
- Always get back to them, no matter how minor the issue might be to you
- Make sure they are kept fully informed on how your firm is doing financially… good and bad
- Get their families involved, and be aware of personal circumstances
- Be firm, but fair
- Give them work they want to do, i.e. Monday to Friday wherever possible, and don’t lose someone and replace them with some who is higher up the membership of the Awkward Squad. Better the devil you know!
- Encourage personal pride in the job, raising the esteem in which the profession is held
This is a big subject, so I will tell you what I do to recruit drivers in the next edition.