Trucking companies are offering their drivers bonuses as high as $20,000 — but they say it's still not enough to fix the truck driver shortage

John Moore/Getty ImagesFive-digit bonuses might not be enough to attract truckers.
  • Truck driver pay has increased this year by record jumps.
  • But new bonuses and pay raises still don’t seem to be enough to lure folks into a job where they’re away from home for weeks at a time.
  • According to data from the National Transportation Institute, 85% of 519 surveyed trucking companies said that increasing their wages hasn’t helped attract new drivers.

As the rest of the workforce deals with wage stagflation, trucking companies are offering five-digit bonuses and record-high pay jumps to entice new drivers to the field.

Yet few trucking companies have reported that their problems have lessened. According to data from the National Transportation Institute reported first on Tuesday by the Commercial Carrier Journal, 85% of 519 trucking companies said that increasing their wages hasn’t helped attract new drivers.

Smokey Point Distributing CEO Dan Wirkkala said at the CCJ Solutions Summit that he agreed with the survey results. At Smokey Point, based in Arlington, Washington, many drivers will receive bonuses of $US20,000-plus this year.

While that’s helped keep good employees, Wirkkala said the bonus hasn’t done much to lure in new hires.

Companies large and small are upping their pay to find new truckers. In September, Walmart announced they would offer referral bonuses up to $US1,500 and shorten the hiring process for its company truckers. Atlas Van Lines, based in Evansville, Indiana, announced its “largest and most extensive” pay increase in August.

Pay jumps have become an industry norm. Nearly half of all truckers said their pay went up in 2018, compared to 11% in 2017. Sign-on bonuses for flatbed drivers have jumped from $US1,500 in 2017 Q2 to $US6,000 in 2018 Q2, as Business Insider previously reported.

Pay jumps should alleviate the truck driver shortage – but they haven’t

America will be short 175,000 truckers by 2026, according to the American Trucking Association. Industry leaders have proposed ideas like lowering the minimum truck driving age to 18 to alleviate the shortage.

But if you ask most drivers about the “truck driver shortage,” they’re not likely to agree that there’s a dearth of people who want to be truckers. Rather, the problem is that the median pay is too low.

“The driver shortage has nothing to do with the idea that people don’t want to do this job,” Will Kling, a truck driver based in Reno, Nevada, told Business Insider. “Little boys still pump their arms for trucks. People want this job, but they can’t do it and support their family.”


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The inflation-adjusted pay for truck drivers has dropped 21% since 1980, according to a Business Insider analysis. Many say the only way to address the truck driver shortage is by upping pay.

“Driver pay has not gone up at the same rate as trucking prices have gone up,” Andrew Lynch, the cofounder and president of Columbus, Ohio, supply-chain company Zipline Logistics, previously told Business Insider. “That’s a big part of why we’re in such a crisis right now.”

Still, trucking company owners say it’s not just a problem that one can throw money at. Vonda Cooper, the operations director at Peoria, Arizona-based Roadmaster Group, said no level of pay raises and bonuses can eliminate some people’s hesitations about getting into trucking – a job where you’re required to be away from home for weeks at a time.

“The first thing I hear is that it doesn’t pay enough, but there’s so much else behind the scenes,” Cooper told Business Insider. “There are family obligations. There’s a call to be at home.”

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