No shortage of school bus drivers in Fort McMurray as company succeeds in recruiting moms

As Alberta school divisions try to manage a shortage of bus drivers, a transportation company in the northern part of the province says it was able to avoid the problem by recruiting parents with young children.

In Fort McMurray, bus drivers from the city’s only school bus company, Sparksman Transportation, are allowed to take two of their children on the bus with them while they work. This means drivers with young children won’t have to worry about paying for childcare.

Mark Critch, president of Sparksman Transportation, said his company started focusing on recruiting young parents years ago because the community has young families and high birth rates.

Critch said the company wasn’t the first to use this strategy, but it served them well.

Now they have more applicants and the drivers are staying longer in the industry.

“Word of mouth was a big thing for us,” Critch said. He said about 75% of drivers are mothers and the company rarely runs out of applicants, unlike many other parts of the province.

Many drivers will recommend the job to others, and about half come to work after hearing about it from others, Critch said.

The Sparksman children sometimes play together before or after school. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

“I don’t think it’s anything revolutionary in our industry. I think we really focused on that, and it worked for us. When the rest of the province or the country complains about the shortage of drivers, we generally didn’t have a big problem with that,” Critch said.

Muna Salih, a Sparksman driver since 2015, wanted to return to work after having her daughter, but the cost of daycare would have been $1,350 – more than half her paycheck as a babysitter, she said declared.

She heard about a bus driver opportunity from a friend and was hired immediately.

“It’s great, because the kids, they can be with me and at the same time I can earn money. I don’t have to pay for daycare,” Salih said.

Mark Critch, president of Sparksman Transportation, said his company started focusing on recruiting young parents years ago. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

“You take care of them,” Salih said. “They’re always with you, which is important. Especially when they’re little.”

Salih said she will continue to work even as her children grow up.

Tania Forbister, a bus driver for nine years, decided to re-enter the workforce when her youngest daughter started school.

The job meant she didn’t have to worry about childcare.

“It makes a huge difference when you can take them with you, because it takes a worry out of you,” Forbister said.

She used to work in the oil sands doing office work, but 12-hour days would have been difficult with the kids, she said.

“It wastes a lot of your time with your children.”

Now Forbister enjoys his job and being able to spend time with his children.