Joe Real, 56, was hired last month as an instructor in Del Mar College’s Transportation Training program after retiring as a bus operator from the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority.

“I’d like to hand over my experience so that maybe others can have a long-term career like I had,” he said.

Real comes at a time of big demand for bus operators in the area. School districts, commercial bus lines and the CCRTA are all hiring, due in large part to a vacuum created by the oil and gas industry.

Real caught the attention of Del Mar staff in February when he attended a ceremony at the West Campus when the CCRTA donated a passenger bus for training at the College. His incredible safety record, wealth of experience and ability to communicate well made him a perfect candidate to teach, said Harry Stanley, lead instructor in Del Mar’s Transportation Training Services.

“I could hire five bus drivers right now if they were available,” said Dale Mecom, director of Maintenance and Transportation at Flour Bluff Independent School District.

Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD) has identified bus operators as a “critical shortage area,” and officials there are recruiting year round, said Debbie Nunez, director for Auxiliary Personnel.

“We need about 25 right now. And we have two new schools opening in the fall, so those are increased routes that we’ll be responsible for,” she said.

Safety and dependability rank at the top of the list of qualifications for school bus operators, followed by excellent communication skills. Housewives, college students and retirees typically find the part-time hours and split shifts attractive, school officials said. Starting pay is over $11 per hour at both CCISD and FBISD.

The CCRTA currently needs 20 to 25 bus operators on a full- and part-time basis, said Jane Dare Haas, director of Marketing. Starting pay ranges from $14 to $16 per hour, depending on experience.

Haas, who worked with Real before he retired from the CCRTA, said he’s a great role model for future bus operators.

“Everybody in the community will benefit from his expertise being shared with the next generation.”

The keys to having a long career as a bus operator are driving safely and being a people person, Realsaid.

Safety, he explains, translates to driving defensively.

“You have to know your surroundings at all times,” he said. “Expect the unexpected.”

Bus operators meet people every day from all walks of life, and some of them may not be having a goodday. Regardless of the passengers’ demeanor, operators “have to be in a good mood even if they’re not,” Real said.

Although he could be spending his retirement playing golf – his favorite pastime – Real is eager to get busy teaching.

“I got bored being retired,” he said with a smile. “I’d rather work.”

Classes and training for a Class B Commercial Driver’s License at Del Mar costs $1,420 for one week of day classes or two weeks of evening classes. For more information, call 361-698-2707 or go to www.delmar.edu/ce/cdlb/.