Middlesex County

With school a month away, the scramble is on for bus drivers

HOPKINTON, Mass. — Michael J. Connelly and Sons is making it clear: they need you — if you want to work as a school bus driver.

The company parked one of its buses in the Hopkinton High lot this week, with a banner urging applications.

Another school year looms and, once again, districts are short on drivers. The School Transportation Association of Massachusetts estimates the Commonwealth needs about a thousand drivers — with companies offering paid training and, in some cases, full-time benefits for part-time work.

“Companies are getting creative as to how they recruit people,” said Tom Hamilton, Executive Director of the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts. “It slowly is getting better.”

But what’s not helping is the ongoing pandemic — the reason for the exodus of school bus drivers in the first place — and what kept many away, even as things began returning to normal.

“Some districts were only going one day a week,” Hamilton said. “Some districts were going two and some up to five. And (bus drivers) wanted something that was more consistent.”

The industry has always relied on two major pools of workers — stay-at-home Moms, who found the hours convenient — and retirees.

But the latter group is still concerned about getting infected — and with good reason. Many young children in Massachusetts remain unvaccinated — though the state has one of the best vaccination rates in the country — and new variants are breaking through previous immunity.

“They’re hedging the odds of maybe getting sick versus just staying home — and they’re opting to stay home.” said Ron Ernenwein, owner of AA Transportation in Shrewsbury.

Ernenwein said he needs about 35 drivers to help service the numerous districts his company covers . Those hired may find the job uniquely rewarding, he suggested.

“That bus driver has the opportunity of setting the tone for that child’s day,” Ernrnwein said. “Which they’ll carry with them throughout the day and it can really set the pace for their learning.”

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