Scheduling is an art and there are concerns about an emerging skills gap that is about to hit the industry.
Much has been written about the bus industry’s skills gap – the missing generation of managers brought about by the sector’s deregulation in the mid-1980s. However, it seems that there are issues looming in other segments of the industry, specifically the increasing number of schedulers who have reached a certain age and are choosing to retire.
“We have a real and significant issue,” warns Peter Crichton, founder of Omnibus. “Schedulers tend to be of a certain age and more and more of them are retiring. Just how do we replace that talent that is now starting to leave the industry in increasing numbers?”
While the skills gap in industry management teams has been largely plugged with the profusion of graduate and internal management training schemes, Crichton expresses concerns about how the looming skills gaps in the scheduling function will be tackled.
“You can’t just pop people down in front of a computer and expect them to get on with it,” he says. “Scheduling is an art and a skill and it takes time to train people up to meet expectations.”
With staff costs roughly accounting for 45% of the cost base of the industry, even a 1% saving in resource can lead to significant cost savings. With a good, well-trained scheduler having the ability to save bus operators thousands of pounds, Crichton notes that good, thorough training is key as well as a thorough knowledge of the job and the tools of the trade.
“You can’t just expect people to take on scheduling within five minutes,” he says. “It takes time, training, knowledge and expertise. I wouldn’t sit someone fresh out of school or college in front of a computer and expect him or her to run my financial year-end. You need training and skills to be able to do that and scheduling is just the same.”
He contrasts the training that many of today’s new schedulers experience with his own training in the area in the late seventies in Greater Manchester. Crichton’s starting points was an intensive 4 weeks of training that gave him the nuts and bolts of the job. This was then followed by 12 months of on-the-job training under the wing of an experienced scheduler, where Crichton admits that he was given every drudge job going, but he learnt the scheduler’s art “from the ground up”. His career then progressed.
“It was just an excellent way of learning,” he says. “Back then there was a demographic time bomb that was about to explode too. The generation of schedulers who joined the industry in the immediate post-war era was on the verge of retirement, but there was structured training and there was a very clear path. What we have now is very similar – that generation is now coming up to retirement, but I’m not sure there’s that succession planning there today. I’m also not entirely convinced that the industry, on the whole, has the skills to provide a good level of training.”
Crichton remembers the paper-based systems that were in use when he began his career in the late seventies. “Back then we had four people scheduling just two depots as a full-time job,” he remembers.
“The advent of computers to assist with the scheduling process has really, really cut that down. I know of some companies where there’s just one or two people responsible for scheduling whole companies and there isn’t any form of structured succession strategy.”
He points to the management training schemes that the major groups and even some smaller operators have developed in recent years. Crichton feels that this is all well and good but it is structured towards people looking to reach the top in operational and engineering roles. As he says, there’s nobody thinking about recruiting and training the next generation of schedulers in any meaningful way.
“Those management training schemes aren’t really attractive to people who would be interested in scheduling, “Crichton says. “More and more operators are getting involved in apprenticeships for engineering staff to solve the problem of a generation retiring there, so why don’t we, as an industry, have some sort of formal training scheme for schedulers? Perhaps we need to think about almost a scheduling apprenticeship.”
This article originally appeared in the ALBUM magazine.