If your average man (or woman) on the street goes with the first description, it could explain why year on year, coach companies struggle with securing the services of high-quality professional drivers… seeing few new recruits enter the industry.
In truth, this less than sterling image is an unfair perception, as the vast majority of drivers are professional, take great pride in their appearance and that of their coach. After all, we have come a long way since the Duple Dominant days and O licences handed down via “Grandfather Rights”.
However, what if the above slovenly image is still even partially accurate? How do we address the issue and effectively go about changing things? Considering the great responsibility placed upon the driver for relatively low pay, plus this general lack of respect, it’s clearly an uphill battle to change this perception. However, it is possible if the correct approach is taken to educate the public and potential new recruits as well.
The industry should also take steps to encourage young people’s ambitions to be coach drivers when they “grow up”, as they currently do with airline pilots or train drivers.
One easy approach would be for coach companies to offer driver presentations at their depots for local schools or groups. This “open day” would be fun and informative to visitors, especially the children, who would get a tour of the coach, its many features and perhaps a ride. To encourage attendance, discounts could be offered for future trips, which in turn would also be a great marketing opportunity.
Another option would be to arrange a similar presentation at local schools allowing the children to see the vehicles up close. The driver’s presentations would emphasise the professional role of ‘coach drivers’, their many responsibilities, and the interesting places they visit and people they meet.
For instance, the presentation could explain that coach drivers’ responsibilities are similar to those of airline pilots, train drivers, captains of ships etc. Their most important task is to ensure their passengers’ safety and that of the coach. Drivers are responsible for the 80+ passengers on board and a coach costing £500k. In this manner, the coach driver’s occupation can be presented as a skilled professional career.
Unfortunately, the job titles of “coach driver” or “bus driver” sound very ‘70’s’ and rekindle memories of Reg Varney and “On the Buses”. These images will hardly encourage children to seek this profession. Perhaps the industry should consider more exciting job titles such as ‘coach pilots’, ‘Land Pilots’ or ‘PCV pilots’, as examples?
In addition, in their school setting, children sometimes see coach drivers wearing jeans and tee shirts, and driving old coaches/buses nearing the end of service. The pupils see a less than stellar image of the coach industry and so are not inspired to become a coach driver when they leave education.
However, things are beginning to change. The new vehicles that are coming into the industry are much more technologically advanced than 10/15 years ago and require skilled operators to drive and manage them. These vehicles have far more safety features and computer controls, which require a high level of training and skill. It is only appropriate to create a new job title to match this new image and level of responsibility.
Driver training should be revamped as well, covering a greater degree of knowledge. This would include all aspects of the business such as tours to Europe, what to expect there, procedures to follow for certain countries and even simulators, where a driver must deal with specific safety situations.
The entire scope of the coach driver’s training could be more professional and give them the acknowledgement they deserve. This would raise the profile of the job position and ultimately the salary they deserve.
We recognize the industry overall is unable to charge the rates they should be charging for a day hire or coach tour. One reason for this is industry saturation with many operators racing to the bottom of the pile, pushing prices down which in turn pushes wages down. However, with clients getting used to higher standards of service, they can easily search for companies with great reviews, who are well established.
These higher end companies, with the equipment to match clients’ requirements, will begin to push out the low-end operators who flaunt regulations and safety legislation, and do not reinvest in their business. This can only be a good thing for the coach companies who provide a safe and legal operation, for the clients who want a greater level of service and also for the coach driver whose salary will increase along with the prestige of the role.
So watch this space for word of future ‘Coach Pilots’ coming to a town near you.
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