Faced with a persistent shortage of bus drivers, Metro Transit will hold an unusual one-day hiring event Saturday to attract job applicants.

The event condenses into a single day what is normally a weekslong application process for bus operator jobs, involving required testing, interviewing and a drug screening. Successful applicants could walk out Saturday with a job offer — conditional on suitable drug test results and a background check.

It comes as employers in the Twin Cities and nationally struggle to find workers in an era of historically low unemployment. Minnesota's unemployment rate as of November was 3.3%, slightly below the national rate of 3.5%.

Metro Transit employs some 1,500 bus drivers but needs to hire about 85 more to adequately cover the system's 130 routes.

"We know there are challenges for us and for other companies, in the Twin Cities and the Upper Midwest," said Brian Funk, deputy chief of bus operations. "But we think we have the best thing going, we're not going to be shy about it. This is a great place to have a career."

Still, Funk concedes that not having enough drivers means making cuts in service.

"In the past month we've had well over 100 trips not operated because we haven't had the right resources," he said.

Ryan Timlin, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, which represents Metro Transit bus drivers, said the hiring event was "long overdue. The hiring process is too long to begin with."

Timlin says driving a bus can be an honorable career that doesn't require a college degree. But he worries that job seekers may be fearful after hearing about driver assaults, and says a short-staffed workplace and seemingly endless road construction in Minneapolis can be stressful.

Funk noted that new drivers are assigned mentors who are veteran drivers to help them learn the ropes. "It's like a built-in buddy," he said.

Starting pay for drivers is $20.44 an hour, and compensation includes health care, dental and vision benefits and a pension plan. Those hired receive a $1,000 bonus and are guaranteed 30 hours a week, with full-time hours available in a few months, Funk said. The top hourly rate is $29.20 after six years.

Applicants must have a current driver's license; a commercial driver's license is not necessary to apply. Funk said Metro Transit will help new employees get the necessary permit and license to drive a bus. Training classes begin later this month and go into February, and new hires will be paid during training.

The event will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Metropolitan Council headquarters, 390 Robert St. N., St. Paul. To speed the process, job seekers may fill out an application online.

The transit agency is offering free bus and train passes to get to the event on its website, metrotransit.org.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752 Twitter: @ByJanetMoore