Driver pay has been a factor in driver shortages since at least 1914, when a publication called Motor Truck reported, “Nearly all employers complain of the great difficulty of securing drivers who are competent and who will work handling freight aside from those who drive horses.”
Businesses, the magazine said, “must expect to pay for the services of men who are worthy and are willing to promote the interests of their employers.”
That’s still true. “Driver availability at the proper pay rate will be a challenge,” said Patrick E. Quinn, co-chairman of U.S. Xpress Enterprises. Driver pay rose in the first part of the last decade, when for-hire and private fleets added 232,000 drivers, especially as trucking demand grew from 2003 through 2006, according to American Trucking Associations’ Trucking Trends 2009-2010 report.
The U.S. truck driver population reached a peak of 3.475 million in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but it began to shrink with falling freight demand, dropping to 3.388 million by 2008, and driver pay fell as well. “In general, it’s been down, both in cents per mile and utilization,” Con-way Truckload President Herb Schmidt said. Con-way Truckload was among the few carriers, he said, that did not cut driver pay in the recession.
But trucking officials say pay isn’t the only factor in driver shortages. They point to an aging driver population and note the labor pool from which truck drivers traditionally have been drawn — rural white males — is shrinking. That’s led them to reach out to minorities, women and other groups, including the millions of people who lost their jobs in the recession and are still looking for work, months or more than a year later.
Another factor is that fewer young workers are willing to spend weeks on the road as long-haul truck drivers. Fortunately, more regional opportunities are opening up, which could help carriers attract drivers. “You will see more and more jobs that offer greater home time for the drivers,” said Robert E. Synowicki, executive vice president and chief information officer at Werner Enterprises.
Truck driving remains one of the few professions where a high school graduate without a four-year college degree can earn $50,000 in the first year on the job, Schmidt said. Con-way’s cents-per-mile pay is in the top third of the industry’s scale, he said, and is regularly benchmarked against other carriers’ compensation. But the miles often outweigh the cents.
“The important thing is to give the driver enough miles to make a living,” he said. “A great pay structure without miles doesn’t do the driver any good.”
Contact William B. Cassidy at email@example.com