Coach Operator Robert Gaines says he’s had a rewarding experience transitioning to a career as a bus driver for Community Transit. Photo courtesy Community Transit

Coach Operator Robert Gaines says he’s had a rewarding experience transitioning to a career as a bus driver for Community Transit. Photo courtesy Community Transit

Shifting careers? What to look for when making a change

If you’re feeling sticker shock at the gas pump and grocery store, you’re not alone. Recent data shows that inflation in the Puget Sound region has spiked by over 10 percent in the past year, with the price of gas up 48.4 percent. And as the cost of living continues to rise, local employers have seen renewed interest in careers that offer competitive wages and paid training.

“Inflation, the labor shortage, the pandemic — so many things have impacted people working in fields like health care and customer service,” says Melissa Anderson, who works in Community Transit’s human resources department. “People are looking for higher wages and job security without the burnout.”

Things like benefits and paid training, which Community Transit provides, can make it easier for people worried about gaps between employment, says Anderson.

Assistant Human Resources Manager Melissa Anderson says bus driver applicants are often looking to switch fields mid-career without taking major pay cuts or losing benefits. Photo courtesy Community Transit

Assistant Human Resources Manager Melissa Anderson says bus driver applicants are often looking to switch fields mid-career without taking major pay cuts or losing benefits. Photo courtesy Community Transit

And with rising inflation, gas and housing prices, working full time may not always be enough to make ends meet. Recent data shows that a minimum-wage worker in King or Snohomish county would need to work more than 90 hours each week to afford a typical one-bedroom apartment.

“Several of our recent hires were working two or more jobs before starting here,” says Anderson. “Being a bus driver is a great option for people looking for a career change without the risk of losing health benefits, taking a big pay cut, or taking on student loan debt.

“Any employer who wants to remain competitive in this market has to consider the barriers people face when it comes to taking on a new career,” says Anderson.

“Many people come to training with no experience driving buses or other big rigs. Every new driver takes our 10-week training course — which is paid plus benefits. “

And as major regional employers make headlines over stagnant wages while their workers attempt to unionize, Anderson says she’s seen more applicants drawn to roles that are unionized.

“When considering a job, it’s important to look at how wages are determined and how they progress,” says Anderson. “Our bus drivers are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1576. The position includes a wage progression based on hours worked. Drivers receive a wage increase for each milestone established by the wage progression. These wages have increased by 3 percent annually for the past five years. Those terms are regularly negotiated.”

New drivers at Community Transit take a paid 10-week training course before driving passengers. Many have never driven a bus before they begin training. Photo courtesy Community Transit

New drivers at Community Transit take a paid 10-week training course before driving passengers. Many have never driven a bus before they begin training. Photo courtesy Community Transit

Looking at your previous and current job experience and skill set with fresh eyes can offer a road map to new career opportunities. Coach operator Robert Gaines found a career at Community Transit after retiring from careers in the military and law enforcement. Gaines says his previous experience was a valuable asset as he made the transition.

“One example is the regimented time structure that the military teaches,” he says. “The other thing is independence. You don’t have that supervisor standing behind you, telling you ‘you need to do this, you need to do that,’” says Gaines.

And in Washington, being a bus driver is a promising career path. Washington offers the third-highest mean hourly wage for bus drivers in the country, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At Community Transit, even drivers fresh out of training make 12.4 percent more than that national median wage of $24.67. During their first year, Community Transit drivers can earn more than $57,000 plus a $5,000 sign-on bonus, and paid training plus benefits are included.

“There has never been a more exciting time to work in the transit industry,” says Community Transit CEO Ric Ilgenfritz. “With light rail expanding throughout the region, including north into Snohomish County, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine bus service.”

And with that growth comes opportunity.

“Eight years ago, I couldn’t have imagined I’d be managing a team of people in a marketing department,” says Phillip Jefferies, who works as a field marketing and business development manager at Community Transit. He spent his first three years at Community Transit as a bus driver before moving into other roles within the agency.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started as a bus driver, but I have found so much satisfaction and opportunity here,” he says. “Being a bus driver really laid the groundwork for my career. It put me on a path that I probably wouldn’t have found without that experience. I have found so much fulfillment and purpose here. And I love doing work that helps serve my community every day.”

Community Transit helps people get from where they are to where they want to be.

From a thriving vanpool program to the Swift Blue Line, Community Transit has been at the forefront of helping Snohomish County residents think transit first.

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