During an unprecedented period in recent history, this team of mentors works to connect new and experienced operators in a mentorship program aimed at helping new operators navigate being on the job.
Facing many unknowns, the bus operator mentor program's regularly scheduled in-person gatherings stopped in March.
"Operators were starting to feel more isolated in a job that can already feel isolating," Alec Johnson, mentor coordinator, said. "We couldn't just wait; we have an obligation to keep this program going to help operators."
With pandemic protocol, the previous format of large in-person group meetings wouldn't work, so Johnson decided to host more meetings, but with smaller groups of six. Given the fluidity of pandemic schedules, he found the job became too complex to coordinate alone, so he requested his "dream team" of four mentors.
This August, Lee Estis, Keith Howard, Stephan Majors, and Skye Saygbe joined him to support the program's new approach which helped them triple the amount of connections in a short period of time. In two months, they hosted events attended by 210. In one month, they connected mentors and mentees with 85 ride-alongs.
"Whether it's a gathering or a ride-along, operators have lots of questions that you can help clear up," Estis said. "It's shocking how much misinformation is out there."
Events are aimed at being an open forum with certain topics, but a ride-along also provides an opportunity to not only help a new operator with the technical aspects of the job, but answer burning questions.
"Sometimes an operator first learns about something on a piece of paper and they try to interpret it themselves," Majors said. "Mentors can help answer questions about new developments."
Since 2018, the mentor program connected new-hire operators during four phases to support operators and help them succeed on the job. "It's rewarding to connect new operators and to help fellow operators, many who haven't seen one another for months," Saygbe said.
The innovations to keep operators connected continues this October and November as 65 mentees who are part of this apprenticeship program will graduate in a similar fashion, in smaller groups.