Truckers Receive Big Pay Rises, But Still There Is A Shortage Of Drivers
The shortage of truck drivers in the United States is pushing up wages. But that does not solve the shortage of truckers.
Massive increases in online ordering during the pandemic sent demand for delivery truck drivers through the roof. It’s increased competition for those willing to be long-haul truckers, forcing those trucking companies to raise wages. But that hasn’t convinced enough people to fill the long-distance driving positions that the industry needs to fill.
Rather, pay increases prompt many drivers to bounce from company to company.
The average annual driver turnover rate is around 95% for full load carriers, the segment of the industry that carries trailer-sized shipments over long distances. Truckload carriers experience the most serious driver shortages in the industry.
Drivers appreciate the pay rise, but they keep an eye out for what’s on offer elsewhere, said Daniel Walton, a 47-year-old truck driver with Roehl Transport, a Wisconsin-based trucking company with 2,300 drivers,
“Everyone likes to make more money,” Walton said. “You hear numbers being thrown at you, there is a temptation to go elsewhere.” Recently he asked a friend to go to Walmart, another to FedEx, who have more regular routes and time home for their drivers.
The opposite effect
Ironically, the wage increase itself can exacerbate the shortages it is designed to solve. Many drivers use the larger paychecks to reduce their driving. “Drivers want to be more at home. They told us that,” said Tim Norlin, vice president of driver employment at Roehl.
Walton said he knows of drivers who are using the increased pay to cut down on their time on the road. “You see guys with young kids, they used to work there,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to be a little more at home with their children.”
A difficult life on the road
Walton is on the road about four out of five weeks, but after a 22-year career in the merchant navy before becoming a truck driver, he said his family were used to being away for long periods of time.
And while Walton says he enjoys life on the road, he admits it’s not for everyone. He helps train new drivers at Roehl, and he had drivers arrested shortly after joining him due to stress or homesickness.
“In a truck you are alone and that takes a good deal of courage,” he said.
The greatest shortage of truckers is in the segment known as full load carriers, which move trailer-sized cargo shipments over long distances. The drivers working for these companies are often on the road for weeks, taking load after load, driving the maximum number of hours allowed and sleeping in their trucks when on leave.
So companies like FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and Walmart that can offer more regular routes and time at home have an edge beyond pay when competing for these drivers.
Another source of competition for drivers comes from the hot construction market, where workers don’t have to be on the road.
Rising wages to stay competitive
Trucking companies are raising wages to keep drivers on their payroll. This week, Roehl implemented his second pay hike this year, which together is expected to increase the pay for company drivers from around $ 4,000 to $ 6,000 per year, or about 9% to 11 %.
“We have to offer that extra pay to be competitive,” Norlin said.
Another truck company, CR England, announced in April its third pay rise in the past three years, raising its drivers’ pay by more than 50% from 2018.
Trucking companies charge customers higher rates and take on more work when drivers are available.
“Our customers understood very well that there was a need to increase rates,” said Norlin. “I could literally hire 500 to 1,000 more drivers. We have commercial offers from customers to keep them busy. “
Walton said he saw his salary go from around $ 40,000 a year a few years ago to probably $ 70,000 this year.
Drug tests and teenage drivers
One factor that has reduced the supply of drivers is a new federal clearinghouse that alerts carriers to drivers who have failed drug tests, DUIs, or other addiction issues on their records. Some 54,000 drivers have been banned from driving since the clearinghouse took effect in early 2020.
“We are in favor of the clearinghouse. We don’t want these people to be on the road,” said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.
What his group really wants, however, is a rollback of federal law prohibiting anyone under the age of 21 from driving heavy trucks.
“Why are 18, 19 and 20 year olds able to drive tanks and fly planes in the military and they can’t drive trucks? ” he said. The industry fears that high school graduates could consider a three-year career as a driver, prompting them to seek other jobs and choking the pipeline of potential drivers.
“If we got there sooner, maybe we could attract more drivers to the station,” he said.
But even this change would not be enough to stem the shortfall. “There is no one reason for the pilot shortage, so there is no one size fits all,” Costello said.