Trucking faces tough competition for blue collar workers

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Updated May 13, 2019

The U.S. has a systemic blue collar labor shortage that has put pressure on a number of trades – everything from plumbers to truck drivers, says Gordon Klemp, head of the National Transportation Institute (NTI).

Speaking Tuesday at the CCJ Symposium in Birmingham, Ala., Klemp said driving a truck isn’t an attractive job by today’s standards, with pay and a workday structure that often don’t compare favorably with other vocations all vying for the same applicants.

“We’ve got new competitors that are paying pretty good wages for jobs that drivers might have been interested in in the past,” says National Transportation Institute Founder and President Gordon Klemp. “Driver supply is tough and it seems to be getting smaller. We have, right now, more blue collar job openings than we have unemployed blue collar workers.”

Gordon Klemp is president of the National Transportation Institute and has been tracking driver pay trends for more than 30 years.Gordon Klemp is president of the National Transportation Institute and has been tracking driver pay trends for more than 30 years.

Truckload driver turnover is stranded near 100 percent. Capacity is out-stripping supply but a lack of qualified drivers is holding back expansion.

Klemp says nearly 60 percent of all drivers are over the age of 45 and to-date the industry has been unable to entice Generation X and Millennials to the trucking workforce.

Trucking paychecks can swing wildly, and Klemp says delays at the loading dock or stuck in traffic hinder a driver’s ability to make consistent money. Sign-on bonuses and guaranteed pay, he says, has helped to remove some of the payday “lumpiness” and recruit and retain drivers.

“If you’re going to do it, it has to be meaningful and available,” he says. “No smoke and mirrors. Simple to understand and it has to be paid immediately. If you can’t take the lumpiness out of the pay … you really haven’t accomplished very much.”

Additionally, Klemp says increases in driver wages haven’t kept pace with other segments. From 2007 to 2018, driver pay jumped nearly 19 percent. Meanwhile, minimum wage climbed 47 percent and McDonald’s increased employee pay more than 113 percent.

Despite mounting concern that autonomy could wipe out driving jobs, the ratio of offers extended to driver applicants is on a 5 year downward curve, and Klemp says hair sample drug testing will uncover a significant amount – he says upwards of 10 percent – of drivers are not qualified to hold a commercial license.

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Klemp says women represent the largest identifiable potential untapped labor force for new drivers. While ladies make up more than 42 percent of the U.S. workforce, they make up only 8 percent of the trucking driver force.

“They crash less, they collaborate more, they put more effort into choosing a company and they stay longer,” he says.

gordon klemp, president of NTI with 2018 truck driver pay conditions info

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]