OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. (WTNH) – Bus companies from all across the state have joined forces once again to put out the word that they are in need of more bus drivers.

When the school bus doors open the person sitting at the top of the steps can often make a difference in a student’s day.

“We are really a big part of setting the tone for the day of how those kids do in school,” said Jon Hipsher, COO of the M&J Bus Company. He is also the Vice President of the Connecticut School Transportation Association or COSTA.

After many school bus drivers decided to stay home during the pandemic bus companies put out a call for more drivers last summer and this year they are doing it again.

“We are still in the same crisis that we described and related to all of you a year ago,” said Hipsher.

More than a thousand drivers are needed statewide. This year though bus companies are ahead of the game already working with towns with driver shortages.

“Your superintendents are on the job working trying to make sure we have a smooth start,” said Charlene Russell-Tucker, the Commissioner of the CT Department of Education.

The state has also utilized new technology to make application approvals and background checks happen more quickly. They used to take up to six weeks.

“Now it takes twenty-four to twenty-seven hours for those background checks to be available,” said Sibongile Magubane, the Commissioner of the CT Department of Motor Vehicles.

Improvements they hope will get trainees on the job more quickly. Today kicked off driver recruitment week.

“I started training this morning,” said retiree Kevin Hogan.

Driving a bus is a job they say is perfect for retirees because of the flexible schedule and for parents because they can take their young children to work with them.

“Childcare right now is a good amount that it could probably even take half of your pay sometimes,” said driver Rebecca Ortiz.

They say it is also a good fit for anyone looking for a rewarding career.

“The experience is so joyful because I feel like I’m giving back to the community what they did for my kids,” said driver Annie Michel.

The average school bus is about forty feet long so the idea of getting behind the wheel of one of them may be intimidating for some.

But everything is automatic these days and there are mirrors everywhere showing different angles. Plus trainees undergo extensive training to learn how to safely maneuver the buses.

“You get comfortable and you drive the bus better than you drive your car,” said Jenna Mileske, the Safety Manager for First Student.

Hipsher says this is a high-paying part-time job. Drivers can start at about $19 an hour and can go up to the mid-twenties.