School Bus Company Experiencing a Driver Shortage in Parts of Minnesota: Are Background Checks the Reason?

By Michael Klazema on 8/3/2015
Extremely in-depth background checks and pre-employment screening processes can sometimes be a double-edged sword. On one hand, employers want to make sure they are hiring someone who is safe, experienced, and trustworthy, and in-depth background checks are one of the best ways to do that. On the other hand, extensive checks or screening policies can also scare away potential applicants, especially when the job or opportunity at hand is not highly desirable in terms of work duties, pay, or benefits.

In Pennsylvania, this topic has been a popular one for discussion since the passing of the Child Protective Services Act stipulated extensive background checks for all school volunteers, a move that many school districts worried would keep parents and community members from volunteering at school. Now, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, in-depth screening policies could be a contributing factor in an increasingly concerning school bus driver shortage.

With just about a month left until most schools will be back in session, First Student, Inc. is having difficulty finding bus drivers to work in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. It's not that First Student is a small company with limited reach or resources either. On the contrary, First Student, Inc. is the largest provider of school bus transportation services in North America, and has presences all throughout the country, including 10 locations throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, and 15 throughout Minnesota.

First Student does have fairly strict regulations in place when it comes to screening new school bus drivers. All applicants must pass an in-depth background check, which includes criminal history checks, employment history checks, residency information checks, and driving record checks. The company calls its background screening policy "the most extensive background check process in the [school bus transportation] industry."

In addition to criminal, employment, driving, and residency background checks, the First Student pre-employment screening process also includes physical performance and dexterity requirements and drug/alcohol testing. Drug and alcohol tests are also conducted on a random screening basis after bus drivers are hired.

All of these requirements are absolutely necessary to ensure that students are kept safe while traveling to and from school. Still, the extensive nature of these checks could be discouraging certain individuals from applying for open positions with First Student. According to a report from KARE 11, a Minneapolis NBC affiliate, the school bus company is looking to fill about 75 open positions throughout the metro area. Some of the employee shortage has to do with new routes that the company is covering for the upcoming school year. Another contributing factor is that numerous drivers with First Student recently retired. But extensive background screenings, zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policies, and demanding physical requirements are almost undoubtedly limiting the size of the potential applicant pool.

The question is, what can companies like First Student do to entice people into applying for open positions? Since school bus drivers have close contact with kids every day, dialing back on background checks and other pre-employment policies is really not an option. So what's the solution? Higher salaries? Better benefits? Signing bonuses, which First Student is reportedly already offering? Unfortunately, this is a dilemma without an easy answer, but it's one that many school bus transportation companies around the country might have to deal with soon, as bus driver background checks become more prevalent and more in-depth.


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