Formerly incarcerated people often become discouraged in their search for employment, facing obstacles that may be hard to overcome. While many jobs are closed to them, a tight job market and new attitudes are forcing change among certain companies and industries. Like motor coach drivers. They’re in high demand. And many companies are eager to hire people who have records.
Take Alicia Nolan, for example. She works for Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area driving buses for Gillead Pharmaceuticals. Yes, those buses. The ones that take tech workers from the Silicon Valley to San Francisco and other places where passengers live.
Her current job is an extreme contrast to what took her to prison in the late 1980s. Nolan was a lifer, incarcerated for 24 years in Chowchilla, Calif., after being convicted of second-degree homicide as the driver of a car carrying a drive-by shooter.
But that was long ago, and Nolan has a new life. After gaining parole in 2013, she started driving for Google, her first job out of prison. The company provided her with a brand new Prius, and she delivered packages on the Google campus in Mountain View.
Get paid while training to be a motor coach driver
Her next job was with MV Transportation, then Gray Line, and after that she assumed her current position with Bauer, where her title is professional chauffeur/trainer. Her company offers a full training program for motor coach drivers, and they get paid during their training.
“You can get a class C permit by going to the DMV and taking the written test. But then you go to Bauer’s or MV Transportation, any company that has a training program, they will train you. You come with a clean driving record and permit, you get training pay rates when you’re in training. It can take anywhere from four to six weeks,” she says.
But it’s not easy driving a big motor coach. “After four to six weeks if you can’t do it, you’re not going to get it. Driving a big motor coach is really hard, and there’s a lot of things to learn before you drive.”
Nolan doesn’t feel that people with criminal records face barriers in the bus driving business, especially in San Francisco.
“They will hire an ex-felon before they will hire anybody, because they know they’re going to be at work. They know that they can rely on us,” Nolan says. “And Bauer’s will hire them. All the transportation companies will hire them. I went from making $12.75 at Google to $28.88 an hour, and when I do overtime I make $43 an hour.”
Good job for people in reentry
Being a commercial motor coach driver is a good job for someone in reentry, according to Nolan.
“It gives you some good customer service experience. For me I found a way that I can give back to the community every day. I come in contact with people every day. I have had some of the same passengers for 4-1/2 years. I’ll see my old passengers on campus, and they’ll wave at me,” she says. “People drive for different reasons. I went to prison as a driver, but at least I’m now driving precious cargo. Every mile I drive is dedicated to my victim.”
While being trained by motor coach companies may be one way to become a commercial bus driver, it’s certainly not the only one. Workforce Development Boards, for example, connect people to a variety of types of training and, in some cases, pay for that training including for professional drivers.
Located around the country, these organizations are funded through the U.S. Dept. of Labor and direct funding to workforce development.
Charles Brown, III, business services representative and reentry coordinator for the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County in California, says that his WDB connects people to transportation logistics training for professional Class A and Class B drivers.
Shortage of drivers means more opportunities for jobs
“Right now we don’t have enough drivers in the marketplace. We can’t train them fast enough,” he says. “Our training is eight weeks, and the trainers need to be on our eligibility list. I deal with fair chance employers and help organizations become trainers. We want to make sure that the person is a returning resident and that they can clear licensing.”
While many transport companies are willing to hire formerly incarcerated drivers, various state laws prevent people with certain kinds of felony convictions, like vehicular manslaughter, from getting commercial licenses.
The industry, however, is welcoming. And it provides excellent employment opportunities with decent wages.
There are also opportunities for those who might be more interested in driving a truck than a bus. San Francisco’s Mochary Foundation pays for truck driving training for those who been incarcerated. You can find out more by visiting the foundation’s website.
Another nonprofit that also pays for truck driving training is FreeWorld. Those who go through the program, find employment and make a certain income after three months are expected to pay it forward by supporting future students.