Gearing up to a new career

Gearing up to a new career 13/03/2009
Jane Grøne

Jane Grøne seizes opportunity offered by European Social Fund to become bus driver in Aalborg, Denmark.

“I could have spent the rest of my life on unemployment or pre-retirement benefits, but I didn’t want that,” declares Jane Grøne defiantly. “I was determined to get a job, and I did it on my own, not because the employment services said I had to. It was my own initiative. But the training was crucial, because you can’t do this job unless you have passed the test and got the driver’s licence.”

Whether behind the wheel of her yellow, single-decker bus, or chatting with her workmates at City Trafik, one of the two main bus companies in Aalborg on the windswept coast of Jutland in Denmark, Jane seems completely at ease. Yet in early 2007, already in her mid-fifties, she was unemployed and had no formal qualifications to help her into work. When she spotted an advertisement for trainee bus drivers in her local paper, she was tempted to respond – she enjoyed driving and it sounded interesting. But she hesitated. Would she be able to handle a large vehicle? And could she cope with the responsibility of her passengers’ safety? “At first I thought it might be difficult because of my age,” she admits.

Moving ahead 

A week later, Jane noticed the same advert. “It seemed like fate,” she recalls. “I thought to myself: If other people can do it, why can’t I? I might as well try and see how it works out. I can always back out later if necessary.”

So she went ahead and, in November 2007, got a place on the Job Competence programme run by the local vocational training centre AMU Nordjylland (ArbejdsMarkedsUddannelser – LabourMarketEducation), an educational project co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund (ESF). The bus drivers’ course included both theory and practice, with several different modules covering health and safety, first aid, handling money, ergonomics, and how to assist disabled passengers.

Fun and interesting

Jane is full of praise for the training she received. “The teachers made it fun and interesting. They were very professional. Even if some of the things we had to learn were quite boring, I personally didn’t feel bored at any stage.”

In the meantime she started looking for a vacancy, and City Trafik offered her a place starting in February 2008. But there was a problem, because although she was due to complete the training by that date, she felt she did not have enough practical experience. “I was nervous, because the company had promised me a job, and all the other new drivers were ready to start.” She was afraid she would lose her opportunity, but the company kept its word. “As we say in Denmark, maybe it was because of my blue eyes,” laughs Jane mischievously. She spent two months taking extra driving lessons, and by April was ready to take up her post.

“I’m really happy I got my bus driver’s licence,” she adds. “It gives you a lot of confidence when you take the diploma and get a good job with good colleagues. You feel better about yourself.”

“Running through the training is the message that people can succeed,” confirms Henrik Johannesson, head of transport and logistics at AMU. “We see a lot of people in their 50s, often because they have lost their job and want to start a new career.”

Jane comes from Hjørring in the north of Denmark. When she was 15 she moved to Aalborg, where her parents opened a café. But a short time later her mother died, and as the oldest of six children, she was soon busy looking after her three brothers and two sisters, and helping with her father's business. She had little time to study and pass exams, so she left school without qualifications.

She married in her 20s, and had three children. Jane and her husband ran a small office equipment business, and she acted as receptionist and secretary. But when her husband died in 1997 she had to sell up the business and look for other work. “I was nearly 50, and I had to decide what I wanted to do. I was looking and looking,” she recalls. She found a job as a health care worker, and had completed a year of vocational training to obtain the extra qualifications she needed for promotion, when a road accident left her with a back injury, making it impossible to do the lifting or heavy work essential to the job. Jane spent about a year, first on sick leave, then on unemployment benefits, before she resolved this was not the way she wanted to live.

Leading a full life

Jane’s children are now grown up and independent. Her older son lives in Copenhagen, but her daughter and younger son live nearby, and she particularly looks forward to the time she spends looking after her two-year-old grandson, Mathias.

She works 37 hours a week, normally spread over six days, with shifts that start as early as 4am and end as late as 1.30am. Every morning she arrives at the depot to be told which route she will be covering that day. There are 170 drivers working out of the City Trafik depot, 22 of them women. 

Thanks to her job, Jane has got to know her city much better. The narrow streets of Aalborg’s old centre, with its neat, pastel-painted houses, are not the easiest place to navigate a large vehicle. But Jane takes pride in driving smoothly and carefully so that her passengers have a safe and comfortable ride. You have to stop at the lights anyway, she points out. What’s the point of trying to rush? She enjoys the social contact with her regular passengers, and they, in turn, show their appreciation: “They give me presents: chocolates and bottles of wine…!”

On the other hand, violence against transport workers is a constant source of concern, with two people arrested for knife attacks on bus drivers a year or so ago. Conflict management was one of the course topics, and Jane says her worst problem so far has been an unruly group at a bus stop. Remembering her training, she swiftly closed the door and drove on. The buses now have alarms connected to the local police.

 “I am very happy in my work,” concludes Jane. “I am happy with my colleagues, and with my boss. Everybody is treated well, and we help each other. It’s like one big family, and nobody is left out. I am going to stay here until I die!” she jokes. She has good reason to expect a lengthy and satisfying career: as long as the drivers renew their medical certificates every five years, retirement age is flexible. City Trafik’s oldest bus driver is 72 years of age.

“I really enjoy coming to work, even at 4am,” she says. “I am never sorry to be working.”