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No school bus driver shortage in Fort McMurray as company finds success recruiting moms | CBC News

While school divisions across Alberta try to manage a shortage of bus drivers, a transportation company in the province’s north says it has been able to avoid the problem by recruiting parents with young children. 

In Fort McMurray, bus drivers for the only school bus company in town, Sparksman Transportation, are allowed to bring two of their kids on the bus with them while working. It means drivers with young children won’t have to worry about paying for child care.  

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

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

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

“The word of mouth was a big thing for us,” said Critch. He said about 75 per cent of the drivers are mothers, and the company rarely has a shortage of applicants, unlike in many other parts of the province. 

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

Kids at Sparksman sometimes play together before or after school. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

“I don’t think it’s anything groundbreaking in our industry. I think we’ve just really focused in on it, and it’s worked for us. When the rest of the province or country is complaining about driver shortages, we typically haven’t had a big issue with it,” said Critch.

Muna Salih, a Sparksman driver since 2015, wanted to go back to work after having her daughter, but the cost for daycare would have been $1,350 — more than half of her paycheque working as a custodian, she said. 

She heard about the bus driver opportunity from a friend and was hired right away.

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

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,” said Salih. “They’re always with you, which is important. Especially when they are little.” 

Salih said she’s going to stay with the job even as her kids get older. 

Tania Forbister, who has been a bus driver for nine years, decided to rejoin the workforce when her youngest daughter went to school.

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

“It makes a huge difference when you’re able to bring them with you, because it takes one worry away,” Forbister said. 

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

“That’s missing out on a lot of time with your kids.” 

Now Forbister loves her job and being able to spend time with her kids.

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