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Drivers wanted 

Recruitment event enlists transportation workers for area schools

Multiple Districts — A recruitment event to fill transportation positions at Grand Rapids Public Schools and Kent ISD drew job-seekers to the Holiday Inn on Pearl Street earlier this month. 

Dean Transportation is seeking to fill bus driver, attendant and technician jobs, as a state- and nationwide shortage persists. Districts have been struggling to fill such positions since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Overall, it’s still an industry-wide issue,” said Kevin Harkness, regional manager of Dean Transportation for the Grand Rapids area. “COVID and the pandemic kind of exacerbated the issue. Folks left for a variety of reasons, and … people either found other jobs or chose not to come back.”

Mishelle Johnson, Dean Transportation’s hiring coordinator, said the company’s regular job fairs have been pretty successful in finding new workers, improving the outlook for the coming year.

“They’ve been helping, absolutely,” Johnson said. “We’ve been getting 10, 12 drivers every time, so it’s been working really well.”

‘A lot different than it used to be’

Johnson said higher wages, good benefits and a general lessening of COVID-related concerns have, hopefully, set the stage for the industry to bounce back.

“Drivers are up to $23.25 an hour, attendants are up to $16.30 an hour, and we offer benefits. There’s medical benefits, a 401k — all that jazz,” she said. “It’s a decent job.”

Harkness said the industry is also benefiting from the fact that the day-to-day work involved with school transportation is more compelling than it once was. 

“Being a bus driver is a lot different than it used to be,” he said, adding that the “chaotic” image some might have of the job is not an accurate representation of the work.

He said Kent ISD drivers transport up to seven or eight students on a given trip, and there’s always another adult on board to help kids with special needs.

GRPS tends to have more students on board, but the rides are short, and there’s plenty of technology to aid drivers, Harkness said.

In addition to the training required for the positions, workers can pick up other valuable skills through Dean Transportation employment, including CPR and First Aid training. 

“We’re doing well,” Johnson said. “We should be in pretty good shape by the time school starts this year.” 

To learn more about available positions, visit Dean Transportation’s website. Johnson said the company is hiring on a “constant basis.” 

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.

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