When top entertainers go on tour in North America, they often travel by motorcoach. Scores of celebrity movers and shakers have made converted Prevost coaches their vehicles of choice since the company pioneered its Conversion Coach Division in 1978.
So it’s only natural for Prevost to support the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy, a program in Nashville, Tennessee—epicenter of entertainment transportation activity—that offers aspiring drivers an opportunity to get on the inside track in this specialized industry.
Steve Zeigler, Director of Conversion Coach Business Development, sees the academy as a valuable initiative that is helping to professionalize the industry. “By supporting the school, Prevost helps educate drivers at a critical time in their careers,” he said. “Becoming more familiar with our brand will better prepare them to work in the entertainment and VIP transportation industry, where Prevost coaches are widely used.”
Co-founded by industry veterans Chip Huffman and Tandy Rice, the academy has graduated approximately 40 students in its first two years of operation. Classes are held at Prevost’s 58,000 sq. ft. Goodlettsville parts and service center, where the first session of 2012 will begin on May 16.
Class sizes will again be kept small, between 10 and 20 students according to Chip Huffman. Instructors and presenters will include “Prevost technician trainers, coach conversion industry technicians, veteran drivers, leasing agents, bus company owners, safety directors, insurance professionals, and security experts, all sharing their collected wisdom about how to break into the industry and secure a coveted position.” Students will also gain hands-on familiarity with the types of vehicles they may drive someday, courtesy of a Prevost converted entertainer coach and a pre-conversion coach that will be on hand.
Answering a “Huge Need For Training”
As former owner and founder of Nitetrain Coach, Huffman knows firsthand the need for competent professional drivers and dreamed for years of putting together a training school. At Nitetrain, he explains, “I was constantly fielding calls from people who hoped to ‘drive for the stars.’ There’s an overwhelming interest in this market, and a huge need for training. We’re pleased to be working with Prevost to help prepare drivers who are highly trained and understand the unique requirements of this business.”
“Many veteran drivers are retiring, leaving the business, or unavailable,” Huffman continues. “I attended two major conferences recently where tour managers asked, ‘What are the bus companies doing to replace the veterans we’re losing?’ In both instances, the companies were able to say ‘We have the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy for that!’”
The academy also works in conjunction with the Top Billing Driver Placement Agency to qualify participants for elite, highly sought-after positions, and its students have secured full or part time placements with almost every major company in the business, Huffman reports. “Several of our drivers are driving full time on major tours.”
One of them is Mike Riley, who has driven full time for All Access Coach Leasing of Nashville since March 2011. Despite almost two decades of trucking experience, Riley spent over 10 years trying to break into the entertainment field. “Attending the Academy was the critical step,” he recalls. “The program helped me gain a foothold in the industry— and into one of its top companies. There was a great deal of in-depth information presented, including how drivers need to deal with the logistics and complexities of touring. I would most definitely recommend it.”
Neville Shende, lead operations manager for Pioneer Coach, is another veteran driver who has participated in the school and written about how to break into the business. “This occupation is all about service,” he explains, “about being a ‘hotel on wheels’ for the people you’re driving. Professionalism, driving skills, and a safety orientation are paramount—and not every driver can do this. Chip saw the need for this type of program.”
Praised by Industry Veterans
Company owners are as enthusiastic about the program as Huffman’s students are. Mike Slarve, president and owner of Four Seasons Coach Leasing in Lebanon, TN, has served as a guest lecturer and employed some Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy graduates. “This is an excellent school that teaches people who aren’t familiar with the industry the realities of what it’s like to be a driver,” he says. “Its owners have indepth knowledge of the field, as do the speakers and other presenters.”
Eric Blankenship, co-owner of All Access Leasing in Nashville, has served on various Academy panels to provide the bus owner’s perspective and also hired two of its graduates to date. “This is a great program,” he observes, “something the industry has needed for a long time. CDL [commercial drivers license] drivers will come away with considerable insight into the field, which can be a completely different type of driving experience from what they’re used to. Attendees really get an insider’s look, as well as the tools they need to break in and succeed.”
Also participating on Academy training panels was Al Schiltz, an industry veteran with 15 years of road manager experience who is now a partner in The Consortium, a full-service artist management, entertainment, and marketing company in Nashville. “There’s a lot more to working in this capacity than just ‘getting on the bus and sitting in the seat’,” he notes. “Entertainment drivers really have an awesome amount of responsibility. They’re basically driving the homes of these entertainers for a long time, since tours can last anywhere from 30 days to a full year. And with today’s vehicles and electronics, there are lots of complexities, so drivers need to be very well-rounded individuals. Chip Huffman has seen all aspects of the business, which gives him the in-depth experience needed to put this kind of school together.”
For details on the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy or an online application, visit: www.huffman-rice.com
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