In any industry where burnout is high, turnover will increase, and transportation fleets will continue to compete to staff up their operations enough to fulfill demand. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the median pay for big-rig truck drivers in 2021 was $48,310, or about $23 an hour.
Many of them work 60-70 hours a week, though much of that time is spent waiting for goods to be loaded or unloaded, and drivers are only paid for driving time. Many aren’t compensated for overtime, don’t have health care benefits, are paying their fuel costs, and spend days or weeks away from home. With many big-box retailers raising starting wages for entry-level jobs to $20 an hour or more, many longtime employees in transportation have left the industry entirely. Employers are trying to bring them back.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported a shortage of 80,000 drivers last year, an all-time high that could reach 160,000 by 2030. To keep up with demand over the next decade, the trucking industry must recruit nearly one million new drivers to close the gap caused by demand for freight, projected retirements, and other issues.
What’s on the Table for Recruitment in Transportation
Higher wages and better benefits
Blackhawk Transport raised wages by double-digit percentages in 2021, and company drivers in some locations now see annual compensation of more than $85,000. The Beloit, Wisconsin-based carrier also touts lower deductibles and premiums in its health insurance program. Its ability to manage recruitment and retention has grown to more than 700 drivers since it started in 2011 with 93.
Trucking firm KLLM Transport Services announced in January of 2022 that it is raising pay and compensation by as much as 33% for some workers, including students just out of training.
The raises took effect in February, and Over-the-road (OTR) drivers saw the most significant increase in their cents-per-mile rate, with a nearly 33% bump. Regional company drivers and independent contractors saw a 10-16% boost in their pay and compensation. They now have the option for a guaranteed weekly minimum pay to help keep wages steadier and solve unpredictable wait times.
In April of 2022, Walmart made headlines by announcing that it would pay its private fleet truck drivers as much as $110,000 in their first year with the big-box retailer.
In-house driver training, educational partnerships, and apprenticeships
In the same announcement, Walmart said it was launching a three-month training program for supply chain associates to become drivers. Many for-hire fleets — including Yellow, CRST, and Werner — now have in-house driver schools. Others partner with education programs and pay new drivers to take their CDL.
According to Transport Dive, the industry has started to get creative with training methodology, making programs more accessible and attractive to younger people. Alabama-based Wallace State Community College, for example, launched a diesel technology program that students can participate in remotely and use virtual reality technology. And Garner Trucking builds relationships with teachers and administrators at local high schools and the local trade school to plant the seed about driving and being a tech.
In 2021, a new nonprofit called The Next Generation in Trucking Association officially launched partnerships with California, Kentucky, and Wisconsin schools to create driver and technician training programs. The association has a nationally registered apprenticeship program through the Labor Department that allows trucking companies and technical colleges to partner with the association to establish those programs, enabling fleets to hire drivers immediately after receiving a CDL. Apprenticeship programs not only introduce a new generation of workers to the industry but also positively impact driver retention.
Flexible scheduling and unique perks
More fleets are implementing flexible scheduling and other cost-effective perks to attract Millennial and Gen Z candidates. This year, Sysco moved its associates (drivers and warehouse) from five to four days to improve employee retention (source: Sysco earnings call April 2022).
Some trucking companies like CR England or Crete Carrier are already offering unique incentives and benefits to attract younger talent, including zero-tuition CDL training programs, pet-friendly trucks, no-cost rider policies, and matching 401K plans.
While some smaller transportation companies struggle to match higher wages, it’s important to remember that people don’t always leave (or stay with) a company for more money. Early anecdotal evidence suggests that drivers for larger companies are staying for the larger salaries but working less because they can afford more time at home. And for a younger demographic, having a partner or pet to travel with and more stability in predictable income or health benefits can tilt the scale in favor of companies that pay slightly less.