Bridge Program instructors Patricia Dorch and Henry Shields with Aaron Harper
As a regular bus passenger, Aaron Harper had been interested in possibly pursuing a career as a coach operator. So when a friend sent him an email about open coach operator positions at Omnitrans, he decided to apply. To give himself an advantage, he also signed up for the agency’s 5-day Bridge program, which helps people develop professional resume and interview skills and gives them an overview of the transit industry and coach operator duties.
“I really did this for myself,” says Aaron. “The class made me feel like somebody. I’ve been through a lot in my life, and wanted to show everybody that I could do this no matter what my past has been like. There’s also a special somebody that I admire and would like to have in my life. I’d like to show her that I am doing good.”
Aaron Harper on the second day of Bridge Program classes
Still the 21-year-old struggled with mixed feelings about the class, and he almost quit the first day.
“My first day, I kind of doubted this program,” he admits. “I was thinking, ‘Oh man, I am taking two days off from my job at Goodwill to do this and there’s no guarantee I’ll even get hired. This is just a waste of my time.’ Now I’m glad that I took those two days off. Even if my boss from my other job didn’t understand, I understand. I’m glad I got what I needed, and now I can take the skills with me anywhere.”
Over the past few years, Aaron has been following his dream to be a musician. He sings, raps, and plays the drums. But now he’s decided to take a step back and focus on making a living.
“I really wanted to see what else I was good at, so here I am,” Aaron says. “At first it was the money that got my attention. Especially for people my age, there aren’t many ways to make that kind of money. I was thinking that even if I didn’t get to be a bus driver maybe I could do maintenance or something. I came here with an open mind. Whatever they throw at me, I’m just willing to work. I want to do something with myself.”
As part of the final day of class, the students dress up as they would for a job interview. For Aaron, it inspires a feeling of pride and professionalism.
“I like dressing up,” he explains. “I don’t know, it just makes me feel like somebody. When you step in here, it makes you feel like you’re important—like all eyes are on you. And you kind of rise to that, but not in an ego kind of way. You just feel like you’re respected in the business part of your life.”
Graduates of the Bridge Program are universally recognized by regional transit agencies as prime candidates for coach operator positions. At the end of their program, participants receive a certificate of completion they can include with their resumes when applying for a coach operator position.
Aaron with Omnitrans Director of Internal Audit and Workforce Development Committee lead, Dr. Samuel Gibbs
“The certificate means that I put forth the effort to utilize my time to come here,” says Aaron. “It’s basically saying that my role businesswise is important. The way I conduct myself is important. And my dedication is important. I felt like leaving after the first day. I felt it was a waste of my time because it was just a program, not a job. So what’s the point? I’m looking for something right now. Now I feel the class helped me, and I might actually get the job. Who knows? I could get a call next week or weeks from now. As a Bridge Program graduate I know I’ll probably be the first to get looked at before the next man.”
Whether or not he is hired on as a coach operator, Aaron believes the skills he has gained from the program will change the way he approaches his work.
“I would definitely recommend this program to other people. I’m going to go back to my job pretty happy with what I’ve learned and treating customers a little better. Not that I’ve ever treated customers badly, but now my eyes are more open to it. Maybe I’ll be a little more talkative—even explain a little about my experiences over the past week, you know? It could help someone else.”
There are limited spots still available in our Bridge Program for December. Click here to sign up for a class session.
Juno Kughler Carlson
Aaron and his classmates celebrate their Bridge Program graduation