MILWAUKEE — School bus drivers in companies all across the Milwaukee area are pulling out all the stops to try to staff up ahead of the fast-approaching school year. In fact, Wisconsin Central School Bus in Milwaukee is offering up to $5,000 in sign-on bonuses and they say they'll help make sure you don't have to worry about child care or transportation.
"Hey, why not? I saw the sign. I saw the number, called, they told me to come in, and here I am," said Dinisio Navarro, a bus driver trainee on his fourth day at Wisconsin Central School Bus. "They say they will pay for the training and everything else."
The school bus driver shortage is something we've been reporting on for years now. When the pandemic forced classrooms to go virtual in 2020, bus drivers were laid off. Many never returned - leading to transportation nightmares for school districts from coast to coast.
At one point, Milwaukee Public Schools even offered to pay parents to drive their kids to school last year, as some kids were left stranded at their bus stops without drivers assigned to their routes.
It's why trainers say it is so important that school bus companies recruit now, even though most students are still enjoying summer vacation.
"It's important to get them in, through the process of getting hired and getting their CDL so they can get on our seniority list and pick their route," said Marlowe Austin, a School Bus Driver Trainer Manager.
It's not a secret that the job market for employers is competitive right now. Many companies are doing whatever they can to attract talent.
At Wisconsin Central School Bus, new drivers get $1,000 sign-on bonuses if they are hired and work for 90 days. That bonus doubles to $2,000 for drivers who already have a Commercial Drivers license (CDL). An unlimited referral program exists too. If you refer someone who is hired, you get another $3,000.
The pay rate is between $19 and $23 per hour and child care and transportation are considered here, too.
"They really do like the idea that they can bring their kids to work with them. As well as, we do offer also a shuttle, where we can pick you up in the morning and drop you off in the evening if you have trouble with transportation," said Austin.
It's an example of one of several local school bus companies aggressively trying to avoid bumps in the road as we head into a new school year amid a nationwide labor shortage.