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Managing recruitment and retention in the bus and coach industry

This month's BIC column looks at the need to recruit and retain skilled workers in the bus and coach industry

The biggest issue confronting all industries across the country, including the bus and coach sector, is recruitment and retention. Maintaining a capable workforce at all levels (whether it be in bus operations or manufacturing) is increasingly becoming difficult, especially while the industry also grapples with the transition to zero emission buses. 

Today, the industry faces a shortage of drivers and manufacturing workers in a limited pool of drivers and apprentices that is only dropping. Currently unemployment is at an all-time low and there is a greater demand for secure work. 

Recently there has been a perceived inability to address this shortage problem. There are many challenges that need to be overcome, but the industry is still struggling to attract female participation and increase skilled worker shortages. 

There is also clear and worrying trends coming out of some state and territory governments. Governments are trying to get their value for money out of transport service contracts by forcing down operational (including labour) costs. With the likely impacts that services will suffer, working conditions will diminish alongside recruitment and the retention of staff. 

An example of this is the annual labour/wage price index that governments use to adjust wages in their service contracts. This wage price index, in recent times, has not kept track with the minimum wage determination of the Fair Work Commission or the Consumer Price Index, or even the other cost of living indices. Over the pandemic period there has been a distancing between the wage indices and the CPI, which wasn’t the previous experience. 

But it’s not just wages and working conditions that are driving industry’s recruitment and retention deficits.  

Let’s take a closer look at bus drivers. We believe there are significant barriers to entry for drivers including: 

  • the payment of hundreds of dollars, up front, on licence and authority applications to various government bodies, exacerbated by long waiting times for approval to start training and actually beginning to earn an income 
  • the lack of harmony between jurisdictions, which is improving, in terms of qualifications to drive 
  • the ease for drivers to get into the ride hailing industry because of the lack of red tape and regulation
  • the image of bus driving. 

Just on this last point, jurisdictions such as Singapore are embarking upon efforts to enhance the professionalism and image of bus driving. Established in 2016, Singapore’s Bus Academy acts as a recruitment agency for bus operators. In Singapore and Hong Kong, bus drivers are referred to as bus captains. In the state system in New South Wales bus drivers are known as bus operators.  

There are many other areas that require consideration in the recruitment and retention of drivers. The industry must encourage a greater diversification to ensure more females come into the industry by recognising the different needs of a female workforce, especially in relation to workplace facilities and the need for greater worktime flexibility.  

We need to see involvement with seniors’ groups to market the benefits of a part time job, driving buses. More workers can gain entry to the industry if changes to immigration laws to allow for a special category of passenger transport driver to be accepted for visa applications are granted. Alongside this, the sector must ensure greater flexibility for apprenticeships, Cert III transport diplomas and reduced age to 20 years to obtain a licence to drive a bus. 

These are the types of initiatives that the BIC will be looking at when developing a policy position on recruitment and retention for skilled workers across the whole industry. It will require greater investment in public transport by state governments and buy-in from the federal government to incentivize the states. The challenge for the BIC and state associations will be devising the compelling argument to governments to improve working conditions as an encouragement to employment. 

No policy development can occur without buy-in from all participants in the industry, including manufacturers, bus and coach employers and employees across all fields including route and school, dedicated school, day coach and charter and long-distance coach.  

A critical requirement is to get proper data to support whatever policy position is advocated.  The BIC is looking at conducting a substantial survey, similar to the 2018 industry survey, to ascertain the extent of the problem to help determine those strategies that are capable of being implemented immediately and those which will need a policy driven approach to governments.  

Go to to stay up to date with our progress on this important initiative for Industry. 

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