Trucker Salaries Surge As Driver Shortage Continues

The American Trucking Associations estimates that the truck driver shortage is currently about 50,000 to 60,000. Drivers have more opportunities now to command higher salaries, especially as unemployment numbers continue to fall. Trucking jobs can be lucrative, especially for Millennials, women, racial minorities and other demographics currently underrepresented in the driving industry. The current shortage means new drivers can make good money and negotiate more time at home.

The Reasons Behind the Huge Truck Driver Shortage

aging truck driver workforceA combination of factors has contributed to the driver shortage. Two major causes are waves of Baby Boomer truckers retiring and incredibly high turnover rates. The turnover numbers are a big reason the industry has moved to increase pay and to give drivers more time at home.

Companies are also striving to make trucking a safer job, for example, working to overhaul lighting at truck stops and adding safety features such as automatic brakes to trucks. Employers are reducing the hours that drivers have to wait at their destinations to offload cargo. Detention eats directly into truck driver pay and can be incredibly frustrating.

Trends for Truck Driving Jobs

The trucking industry, year after year, cannot fill all open positions with qualified drivers. That trend continues, keeping trucking as a stable and potentially lucrative career path. From 2018 to 2028, job growth for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers should be 4% to 6% with 238,400 projected openings, according to O*Net. For light truck or delivery services drivers, the projected growth is also 4% to 6% with 120,700 positions.

That is an incomplete picture, though. A report released by the American Trucking Associations in July 2019 indicates the need to hire 1.1 million new drivers during the next 10 years to keep pace with economic growth and to fill vacancies left by retiring drivers.

Women in Trucking

To say that women in the trucking industry are under-represented would be an understatement. Women make up 51 percentage of the population, yet only approximately 6 percent make a living as commercial drivers. Historically, traditional roles, motherhood, and the tough physical nature of driving truck inhibited the rise of female drivers. However, there have been trailblazers.

The first woman to earn a truck driver’s license was Lillie Elizabeth McGee Drennan in 1929. Although she had to secure that right through court litigation, she became the sole owner of the Drennan Truck Line.

The industry has always been dominated by men, but during the war effort of the 1940s, women were encouraged to work in traditionally male occupations such as commercial driving. And while the women’s movement beginning in the 1960s has steadily closed the gap between the sexes, trucking has largely been an equal opportunity industry. And, technology has reduced the physicality of trucking as well. With an imminent driver shortage, trucking companies are raising the bar to persuade women about the benefits of good-paying careers.

Millenials in Trucking

Given the high cost of a college degree and the struggles to get out of student loan debt, the trucking industry checks many of the boxes that younger demographics require. Of the current workforce, Millennials comprise approximately half. The age group is expected to make up 75 percent of all workers by 2030.

That being said, trucking companies have already begun promoting themselves in ways to attract a younger generation of truck drivers. Lifestyle interests rank high among this workforce demographic, so trucking companies are offering incentives such as:

  • More time at home
  • Reduced wait times at destinations
  • Safer truck stops
  • More safety features on trucks
  • Free, online college tuition
  • Signing bonuses

The common thread that appears to be emerging within the trucking industry is that recruiters are repositioning pay rates, incentives and lifestyle elements to engage Millennials. Darin Williams, President of, says, "Our website is designed for Internet-oriented future drivers to access information about trucking company packages and find the carrier that best meets their lifestyle needs."

Truck Driver Salaries Leave Much Room for Growth

As drivers have more options for employment, trucking companies have boosted driver salaries and continue to increase them. They've also turned to financial incentives such as signing bonuses to attract new drivers. In the 1970s, truck drivers could rake in salaries equivalent to more than $100,000 in current dollars. To get a bit more recent, here are some 1980s salary comparisons.

  • Atlanta:Average hourly wage in 1980 stood at $30.13. The 2018 rate averaged $18.38 for light truck or delivery services drivers and $21.15 for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers.
  • New York City:The hourly wage averaged $29.18 in 1980. The 2018 rate averaged $19.12 for light truck or delivery services drivers and $25.40 for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers.
  • Chicago:In 1980, drivers saw an average high of $34.39 compared with 2018's $19.81 for light truck or delivery services drivers and $24.19 for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers.

As you see, heavy and tractor-trailer drivers earn more money than their light truck or delivery services driver counterparts. For one thing, employers generally have stricter requirements for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers. Plus, these drivers tend to be away from home more and drive farther.

Signing bonuses are also an incentive that many employers in the trucking industry are utilizing to entice seasoned and even rookie drivers to join fleets. According to reports, signing bonuses have ratcheted up from about $1,700 in 2017 to a whopping $6,000 in 2018. With freight rates up as well, drivers are well-positioned to see further incentives and pay bumps.

How to Start a Career as a Truck Driver

To become a professional truck driver, candidates typically must:

  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Finish truck driving school
  • Pass a driving and knowledge test to get a commercial driver's license (CDL)
  • Obtain any necessary CDL endorsements such as hazardous materials (H)
  • Pass a physical every two years
  • Maintain a clean driving record

Light truck or delivery services drivers can work with a high school diploma as well. They are usually trained on the job, and CDLs are not required.

Ready to Get Started with a New Career in Trucking?

Without a doubt, truck driving will continue to rank among the most secure and high-paying blue-collar occupations going forward. Salaries could easily surpass the golden era of trucking over the next decade. If you are interested in joining the men and women who keep America’s goods and products flowing, the future may hold a wealth of opportunities for both beginner and veteran truckers. Start browsing truck driving jobs and apply online today.

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Last modified on Thursday, 14 May 2020 09:42