When I first came up with the idea for Supir, one of the biggest pushbacks I’d received from people I had talked to was, “If the transportation industry is short 65,000 people how do you plan to get them?”
As a transit operator, I knew that there were thousands of drivers available. It was just a matter of convincing them to want to join our company.
Driving the bus is a tough sell, generally —most media outlets never paint transit in a favorable light. Typically, when you turn on the news or sign in to your favorite social media site, the message is projected loud and clear: driving the bus sucks.
Hiring is already difficult, but when people don’t think highly of the job it can become near impossible. My thinking was “If we were going to be able to scale this on-demand bus driver app, we were going to have to find a way to change a lot of those sentiments about driving the bus”.
Here’s how we got nearly 7,000 drivers to sign up for Supir in less than 2 months during our pre launch phase, and here’s how.
So, in my journey, I’ve noticed whenever a bus company posts a hiring ad…they typically all look the same regardless of the agency. They are usually very generic, with headers like “health benefits,” “career security,” and so forth.
This would be great if people didn’t already have a negative disposition towards the bus, but this information will fall on deaf ears because people’s minds have been made up.
Although this sort of approach can provide results, but what ultimately happens is, you just end up with mercenary drivers who don’t give a damn. The ad will get them there, but the chances of keeping the there are low.
Here is how we were able to successfully recruit the drivers we needed:
Coming into this, we already knew the disconnect was time and flexibility. Believe it or not, most of the applicants we got on Indeed were already employed by someone else, but they were searching for additional opportunities that had more of….you guessed it, flexibility. Our ad was focused on talking to the driver pain points, not what our company could offer money/ benefit wise
We were an early-stage start-up, so we couldn’t offer things like benefits and career security. If anything, it’s the exact opposite, but we were transparent about that. Not to mention, wages and benefits aren’t as hard to find as they used to be. People see them on every post they come across, so after a while it becomes the same song and dance routine for the applicant.
Some of these ads would come across as written like they were talking to people from the mid-’90s, so we knew that was going to be a hard sell. Instead, our ad was focused on personal benefits to the individual, rather than a broad umbrella.
I have an old saying, “What’s apple pie to someone who doesn’t like apples,” which encapsulates the rationale behind our ad strategy here.
Here’s a copy of our first ad, you can download it here
At the end of the ad, you can see it’s a link…to schedule an interview. I know how nerve-racking filling out an app can be…what human likes rejection? Also, I think the hiring model should be blown up in general, but that’s another conversation. You sit and wait and wait, checking emails and voicemails not knowing how it may turn out. That’s annoying af.
Anyway, I know that there are THOUSANDS of people who don’t feel like they can pass a job application, but feel that if they can just get an interview, a foot in the door, that would be all they needed. I understood that because that was me for so many years. I could relate. I’m super talented, but only have a GED, and know I won’t even pass Indeed bar. How do I know? Because we recruit on Indeed and we know how it can disqualify you automatically if you don’t check certain boxes
In our app, as you can see, at the very bottom (your reward for reading the entire thing) we would let candidates schedule their interview, and if they didn’t schedule it, our outreach specialist would reach out within 24 hours to schedule one.
Our very first wave of drivers all interviewed with me. I had a chance to talk to and get to know the very first 300 drivers that signed up. I would dedicate 2 days a week to just talking to people and getting to know them. I’d ask questions about them, their families, and how Supir could help them. This helped build a sense of trust and relationship in my drivers because they knew I cared. They weren’t just an employee or number here, they were a person, an individual from the time they interviewed to the time they drove.
Coming into this, I knew we’d have to change some minds to get people turned on to driving the bus. We did this by launching a Facebook ad campaign called “I’m a Supir”. This was a simple picture of one of our drivers, with a short and simple story attached.
I know you may be thinking that this is an old technique, but here is how we modified it: We didn’t share a super happy message all the time. We shared, by definition, real s***. We let drivers share their story and how Supir benefited them. Some like to call these case studies.
This helped people connect with the ad opposed to the normal corporate smile” one-liner simply liner ad. Ours was real and genuine, and people felt that.
On the outside, some may look at this as a less than conventional hiring campaign.
But in reality, it was a relationship-building campaign. Every single element to us being able to scale was predicated not upon hiring drivers, but on building a connection and having a conversation.
That’s how you change your mind. In almost all of my interviews, our drivers shared why they felt their employer didn’t care and why they either left the industry or were looking for a change of scenery.
The Facebook ad, the Indeed ad and even the interview scheduler did not connect people to a recruiter, neither was some HR person there to vet them further down the pipeline. They connected them to a person who took a personal interest as opposed to someone just doing their job, and they sensed that.
But that didn’t die when they got onboarded on the platform, it continues. On the Supir platform, our drivers and staff have a direct way to contact me —we chat, we communicate, I check in, they check-in. Because ultimately, we are a team here and we realized that better transportation begins by building better drivers
I was once working with a service planner in my agency when he joked about how his data is screwed up because individual operators were always leaving the terminus late. As I was one of those operators, I explained my reasoning, and we were able to have an informative conversation and come to a great solution that benefitted us both. Drivers are often on their own–no one informs them of other coworkers’ challenges and difficulties. We see the results of the backend policy, not the reasoning behind it. If you have a line that seems to struggle often, start a discussion and ask to propose a solution–you’d be surprised at the results you get.
Inspire your drivers and instill a sense of purpose in them. While pay and benefits are great motivators, they can be harmful to your work environment if you focus only on those. You’ll end up with a workforce that does the bare minimum to receive compensation. Create a healthy work culture where your drivers are eager to work and loyal to the agency. Connect the purpose of their work to the actual impact it has on society, and make it known that you appreciate them.