GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — School districts and transportation services are still looking to hire more bus drivers as the school year nears.
Dean Transportation will host its fourth hiring event Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn located on Pearl Street.
“For the past three to four years, it’s been very slow. Currently, we’re having pretty good success with people coming out,” Kent County regional manager at Dean Transportation, Kevin Harkness, said.
According to Harkness, Dean Transportation hired 15 to 20 workers at its hiring events this summer. Dean services routes in the Grand Rapids Public Schools and Kent Intermediate School District.
When asked about what are the most common fears of becoming a bus driver, Harkness says it’s two-fold.
“I think it’s the big vehicle. Without getting in it they think it’s a large vehicle. Oh my goodness I can’t drive it and then the kids. I think they think it’s 50 to 80 kids going crazy on the bus and that’s not what it is at all,” Harkness said.
It was a concern for 27-year-old John Degraaf who was looking to transition from working in the restaurant industry.
“I had a hard time working on my feet all the time and I was like hey, I kind of want to get off my feet. It’s starting to hurt a little too much and I was like I want to get into bus driving,” he said. “I heard an ad on the radio and I was like let’s give it a shot. I like working with kids. I like driving let’s just do it.”
Degraaf has been in training for over a month. He earned his learner’s permit and soon enough he was put in the driver’s seat.
“You think oh it’s really scary. It’s really not. You have to take a few wider turns, but for the most part, it’s not too bad,” Degraaf said.
It takes just under two weeks to receive a learner’s permit though staff at Dean Transportation say it depends on how quickly you learn.
Overall, training could last six weeks and includes an off-road portion as new hires receive a booklet from the Michigan Secretary of State which includes a manual for operating a commercial vehicle.
Between three to four weeks of the training are spent driving on the range and out in traffic.
“We work with you every day to teach you to get ready for the third-party test, which is a state of Michigan test that you have to go out on the road and pass to get the final CDL,” Harkness said.
If you’re only available for a morning or afternoon shift, Harkness says they will work with your schedule. There just has to be some level of commitment. He encourages interested applicants to give the job a chance.
“If you’re nervous or concerned, you can come to any of our locations, and we will take you out on one of our training facilities and drive a bus before you even make a decision,” he said. “Come in, sit down and talk to us. If you have questions, let us know we can try to help ease some of those concerns.”
Veteran drivers say the job doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it might seem.
News 8 Reporter Gabrielle Phifer set her own fears aside for a few hours to show you what it’s like to be in the driver’s seat.