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Driver shortage not just about pay, year-end report says

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The National Transportation Institute’s year-end roundup contained one surprising data point after another. The report’s conclusion, however, didn’t come as much of a shocker.

“The biggest takeaway is we’ve got a systemic labor problem,” said NTI president and CEO Gordon Klemp during a phone conference last Friday. “We don’t see a simple solution.”

Klemp and NTI’s COO Leah Shaver dug into some of the data showing how fast and by how much driver pay is increasing — and how the dollar signs still aren’t closing the gap between driver demand and supply.

Over the past three quarters, the average pay increase across all regions of the U.S. clocked in at 8.3% — the biggest jump since NTI started tracking moves in 2004-2005.

Pay increase cycles typically fall into the same pattern, Shaver said. The leading carriers move first, followed by middle payers and finally the lower quartile payers make adjustments. 

This process typically takes 30 months or more. But the most recent pay cycle was compressed to only 10 months, followed immediately by a new round of increases. 

Most important: those multiple pay moves did not result in companies’ meeting their hiring goals.

Out of a sample of 37 fleet owners, one hundred percent of the people who made changes in pay cycle reported periodic improvements in retention, said Shaver. “But 100% are still not meeting hiring goals.” 

Nineteen percent made more than two changes in the recent pay cycle, she noted. “That’s amazing.”

In an effort to retain drivers, fleet owners are doubling down on recruitment of women and minorities, eliminating some job requirements and allowing “any comfort driver could appreciate at home on truck,” Shaver said. Dogs and amenities for dogs are high on the list of driver wants.

Fleets are also investing more in internal and external marketing campaigns, and boosting sign-on bonuses. It’s not making much of a difference.

“Driver supply is inelastic in the short term,” Klemp said. 

A tight blue collar labor market is a big factor behind the shortage. But Klemp ticked off other reasons why fleets were having a hard time seating their trucks: increased regulation, the physical demands of the job, long, uncertain hours, ubiquitous technology and the job’s decline in social status.

These concerns are unlikely to diminish in the future. Young people aren’t interested in being truckers, Klemp said.

What is more: In a time when marijuana continues to become legal, the population that previously would have considered truck driving as a 2nd or 3rd career choice, will no longer do so due to drug testing.

The year end roundup concluded on an upbeat note— sort of.

“Some of the known technology that can make a big impact are at least three to five years out from real wide-spread use, too long under current economic projections,” NTI noted on the last slide that accompanied the presentation.

“[But] history teaches us that big problems attract money and innovation.”

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Linda Baker, Staff Writer

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves staff reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes early-stage VC, freight-tech, mobility and West Coast emissions regulations.


  1. Who wants to work for free driver’s gives away a lot of free hours on top of a grossing 11 hours of working then sacrifice for not seeing your families for a little pay the old days they can recruit some driver for a $00.10 cent a dozen

  2. Stop the legalization of marijuana that’s stupid marijuana should never have been legalized. Second pay more I’m sure as a CEO you’re making millions and you get to go home every night to your family so pay more

  3. We were told our company was looking into a significant pay increase….but we’re still waiting…and waiting.
    Something this report doesn’t really address as far as retention is the fact that these companies really truly do not recognize experience and seniority. I have 30 yrs in and an excellent safety and work history….along comes new drivers, lazy drivers, careless drivers and they receive the same pay as I do….how am I supposed to feel about that? I’m supposed to bust my ass and give a 100% all the while getting texts and memos about the drivers not doing their jobs…and they keep their position and the same pay?

  4. The insurance company’s are ruling this driver shortage, you can’t have a dui, failed drug test . You can’t switch from dry van or reefer to flatbed or dump they literally cancel your experience out . Not every dui is habitual it could be just a mistake for some.

  5. The number 1 problem I have as a driver is the lack of respect for my time. I have to be early or on time and the shipper/receiver can keep me in the dock for 4-6 hours on a regular basis with no pay. And most don’t even want to provide a restroom! And then there are times where a driver gets stuck 24 hours at a destination!!! There are hundreds of reasons this can happen especially driving reefer. Again… Little to no pay and blood pressure goes thru the roof. If the wheels aren’t turning, we aren’t making money. We are at the wims of the vendors. Also, driving as teams the roads are in terrible shape, waking us up constantly. It effects our health, mentality, focus, etc. We already feel we don’t have a life. We sacrifice too much and I’m sorry. Pay needs a much bigger bump to be dealing with all this plus the crazies with toad rage and guns.

  6. I was a trucker for 7 years, following in the foot steps of my father, but once I realized I was ever going to make the money my father made ….in the early 70’s Drivers where bring home 100 + a year and now barely 50… So there is a big issue there…

  7. A lot of the problems are the drivers themselves. They expect far too much from driving a truck. Driving schools don’t teach anything about the industry it’s self.T he ups and downs and pit falls.. New drivers are not going to earn big bucks. Companies aren’t going to pay it to anyone that is still green behind the ears with a few weeks and maybe months experience. Big bucks are earned. I see a ot fo new drivers go berserk when told a load was not available when it was promised by the dispatcher. The dispatcher may not have lied but the load was hauled by a cheaper carrier. That’s trucking. Get used to it.. Don’t like the sitting? do some other kind of trucking. Learn flat bed. tanker. Try changing . it does work for so many. Because your started in Vans for a mega carrier does not mean you have to stay. Unless you have a contract.. Trucking is not fixed, You can change, learn & earn.