With freight volumes surging throughout trucking, fleets are becoming more desperate in their search for drivers. That means bigger paychecks and more benefits are on the table.

“We do not anticipate significant capacity additions in the truckload market for the immediate future, but the difficulty in expanding the industry's driver base alone would be enough to preclude any meaningful additions to capacity,” said Kirk Thompson, president & CEO of J.B. Hunt Transportation Services.

J.B. Hunt is boosting driver pay in the third quarter this year, but Thompson feels that higher pay alone won’t solve the driver shortage issue. “A far-reaching, universal solution to this shortage of labor has not yet been found. Until adequate labor becomes available to fuel expansion, it is our view that the industry-wide supply of trucks will remain constrained,” he said.

“Getting and keeping drivers is the number one problem we have,” said Gary Enzor, CFO for Swift Transportation. As a result, Swift is trying new tactics.

On top of a 2- to 3-cents per mile pay increase for its newer drivers – those with 6 months to 3 years tenure at the company – along with higher ‘accessorial pay’ for stop-offs and wait time, Swift is shifting many drivers to more dedicated routes to increase home time.

“We’re trying to identify the ‘comfort zones’ for our drivers. That’s why we’re trying to give our linehaul routes a more regional feel so drivers can get more home time,” said Enzor.

Heartland Express is doing something similar by locating more of its terminals closer to major customer locations, it is able to offer drivers regional routes, which gets them home more often, at linehaul pay scales.

Werner Enterprises has implemented an optional per diem reimbursement program for company drivers in fleets other than its dedicated divisions, a program it reports is cost neutral to the company but that increases driver satisfaction through higher net pay per mile.

“The per diem effort also had the positive effect of helping to reduce driver turnover,” said Clarence Werner, chairman & CEO.

At Swift, owner-operators are also becoming more attractive. “We’d like more owner-operators – several thousand more if we can get them. From our perspective the return on investment in an owner-operator is three times that of a company driver,” said Enzor.

One reason Swift said its ROI on owner-operators is so high is because they bring their own equipment to the business and thus have more incentive to work hard. “It gives [us] the ability to grow without adding significant capital investment on our part,” Enzor said.

Murray Mullen, chairman & CEO of Canada-based Mullen Transport, is worried that there just aren’t enough younger drivers coming into the industry – and that could cause a more severe labor shortage in the future.

“First of all, insurance costs are much higher for younger drivers. And second, the lifestyle is an issue – trucking is a tough, tough business and I’m not sure being a driver is the most appealing job for younger workers today,” he told Fleet Owner.

Mullen said the average age of his company’s driver is around 50, with the average age of owner-operators slightly higher. He said something “new and creative” will have to be done to get younger drivers into the industry as retirements among current drivers start to increase.

“I don’t think wage and benefit increases alone will do it – I don’t see any quick fixes,” Mullen said. “The clear trend is that the current pool of drivers is aging and at some point we’re going to reach a tipping point where many will be retiring.”