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School bus companies a saving grace for laid off Albertans

ABOVE WATCH: School bus companies are reporting a surge of applicants, and the reason appears to be layoffs. Global’s Stefan Keyes reports.

CALGARY – Trish Hardy says she worked in human resources for oil and gas companies for many years. She handled much of their layoffs and estimates having to give notice to as many as 600 Albertans throughout the course of her career.

In 2014, she found herself out of work.

“Monday morning, you know, everyone else is going off to work and I’m sitting at home,” said Hardy. “You know that’s a little bit tough.”

But – as they say – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Hardy is just one of many who have turned to school bus companies for a source of income.

“They need something that’s a quick fix to get through to feed their families. And some people are just here until the economy rebounds,” said Mike Stiles.

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Stiles is a safety manager with Calgary’s biggest school bus provider: First Student. He says in past years they’ve struggled to find drivers to the point he’s had to leave his post as a manager and get back behind the wheel. But the situation is very different this year.

“We’re up about 34 per cent over last year,” said Stiles.

Thursday’s class consisted of 21 students. Each student has a different story.

For Patricia Grant, leaving retail for school bus driving seemed like a guarantee during uncertain economic times. A consistent message is that there will always be children; and there will always be schools.

“I’ve mostly worked retail and it’s sort of challenging trying to find a position that is going to continue with the various fluctuations of the economy,” said Grant.

First Student plans to have close to 800 drivers for the 2015-2016 school year.

Calgary’s other school bus company, Southland Transportation, says it has also seen an increase in driver applicants.

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