As in most any career field, actual take-home pay still speaks the loudest to drivers. Leading on this key selling point clearly gives an advantage to private fleets at hiring time.

“Average pay for drivers in the private fleet community was reported at $60,021, up nearly $1,500 from the $58,784 reported in 2011,” Petty says. “And starting pay for drivers remained virtually unchanged at just under $50,000 in 2012, as did pay at the end of year one ($53,417).

“The upper limit for the most experienced drivers maxed out at more than $68,000 annually, a decrease of $14,000 compared to last year. But this is explained by the retirement of more highly compensated drivers,” he adds.

Truckload carriers are trying to pick up the pay slack. TCP’s most recent Business Expectations survey found that almost 50% of the truckload carriers questioned “expect that they will need to raise driver pay 2 to 5%.” And 25% of the carriers also plan to up pay, but by less than 2%. A much smaller percentage of carriers—just 3.3%—said they’d boost pay by 6 to 10%.

According to TCP, a key reason for carriers to hike driver pay is the reported number of “unseated trucks.” While that number varies by carrier size, in the survey overall, 75% of the carriers reported having unseated trucks.

TCP’s Batts states that “driver pay is indeed part of the answer—but it must be increased substantially enough to discourage job-hopping.”

She says fleets should consider that “guys will work on the North Slope [oil fields] because they are paid enough to overcome the disincentives of the job, especially being away from home for very long stretches.

“The reality is long-haul trucking with its time away from home—not to mention having to eat poorly at truckstops, etc.—makes it an unattractive job for many given the usual pay offered,” she stresses.

Batts concedes that shippers “do not pay more regardless” of carriers’ difficulty in recruiting. Nevertheless, she says if higher pay is ever going to solve the driver shortage, it will have to be substantially higher on average than where it is now.

“Going up two to three cents a mile just won’t do it,” contends Batts. “The industry needs to offer $80,000 [both to reduce churn and attract new drivers], which is where it should be now had pay kept pace with where it was in the 1980s. “If the economy does start to grow, then pay will increase,” she continues. “But bear in mind the shortage won’t be solved if pay, like it did in ’06, goes up just enough to encourage job-hopping.”

Alas, Batts doesn’t expect either the economy or pay shooting up anytime soon. “There would have to be a ‘mother of all’ capacity crunch for pay to really go up,” she asserts.

As Batts sees it, until pay can be high enough to be truly attractive, the “only practical approach is to change the nature of the job as much as possible, such as by moving more freight intermodally so truckers will be mostly handling the drayage.”

She says many carriers are working to figure out the best way to do this and cites the hub-and-spoke operation put in place by J.B. Hunt and the relay-type system deployed by Werner Enterprises as worthy examples. Batts does allow that there “must be a lot of activity in the lanes for this to work.

“Where the lowest turnover in truckload is found is in the regional operations that can get drivers home as they prefer— weekly and predictably,” she adds. “What it comes down to, then, is that carriers must pay drivers more or [at least] get them home more often” to make any kind of dent in the driver shortage.

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