Companies are currently struggling to hire truck drivers. It’s a factor that bogs down supply chains.
Clayton Atkins, a 25-year-old truck driver, said the problem is low pay, especially for new drivers.
Atkins said trucking is a last resort for many, and higher wages could correct that.
Clayton Atkins, 25, used to feel lonely when he was on the road for weeks.
Some days he wouldn’t talk to anyone until his wife was off work. He alternated between calling her, a few relatives, and the occasional friend.
Atkins isn’t alone: Truckers previously told Insider’s Grace Dean that the long distances from home and family — in addition to low pay — have made the job less than coveted.
Now Atkins’ work as a truck driver is more local. He travels between Louisiana, Florida and his home state of Alabama.
While workers across the country are leaving their jobs en masse, the trucking industry needs an estimated 80,000 additional drivers to function optimally. That’s a historic high, according to the American Trucking Associations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just under 1.55 million people were employed in trucking in February — a significant increase from about 1.48 million a year earlier, but certainly not enough to close the shortfall. According to the ATA, that shortage could also rise to more than 160,000 by 2030.
The pandemic may have exacerbated the industry’s woes, but it has already been linked to a “truck massacre”. Insider’s Rachel Premack reported in 2019 that trucking entered a recession as demand plummeted and thousands of truck drivers lost their jobs.
Meanwhile, truck driver shortages have stalled supply chains. But, as with industries across the economy, the solution may be to rethink what wages and benefits look like for the demanding role.
“If you ask a truck driver, it’s kind of a broken record,” said Atkins, who has been in the industry for three years. “It’s not a shortage of truck drivers, it’s a wage gap.”
Atkins thought trucking would offer a fresh start and good pay
When Atkins was 18, he enlisted in the military. He served until he was 22 – then he wanted a fresh start.
“My oldest brother was a truck driver for about six to eight years,” he said. “They have a nice house, nice cars, four-wheelers, boats, all that kind of nice stuff.”
His brother told him to use his GI bill to get his CDL or commercial driver’s license. The cost of obtaining a CDL varies by state. In New York, the average tuition for CDL schools is nearly $14,000, according to Freightwaves. In Alabama, where Atkins now drives, the median tuition is about $3,950.
“It’s definitely not what I expected when I started,” Atkins said.
His first job was delivering beer. “That might be one of the worst truck jobs you can get because you might be driving the truck for a total of two to three hours a day.” The rest of the time was spent stocking beer at gas stations, bars, and wherever it was needed.
Since then, he has tried a “bunch” of different types of cargo. Most of his experience is in flatbed trailers and heavy transport, but at the moment he is trying his hand at transporting cars.
“It’s been slow progress to get to where I am today,” he said. “It is certainly not the case that you are in it quickly and earn money.”
Now he thinks trucking is a ‘last resort’, especially for young people
Atkins said there is a “big problem”: He can open a job board, type “truck driver job” and see “a million ads” promising $100,000 to $120,000 a year. “But every truck driver knows that is 100% a lie,” he said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for heavy truck and tractor drivers as of 2020 was $47,130 per year.
Alana Semuels of Time magazine covered a similar phenomenon in an article stating that there is not a shortage of real truck drivers, but there is a retention problem due to the deregulation of the industry. New truck drivers “find that work pays far less than they’d like to believe, and that working conditions in the industry are appalling,” Semuels wrote.
“Why give up what I do to become a truck driver, live off my truck for three weeks and make only $50,000 a year when there are a ton of other jobs where you can do that?” said Atkins. “They just want to screw up these new drivers because they know they can do it.”
Atkins said a good starting salary for truck drivers would be at least $70,000 a year. He said the “biggest thing” is that it’s hard to attract people to the industry — “and it won’t really change unless there’s a change in pay.”
“You don’t really get younger people like my age getting into trucks,” Atkins said. “You get people who may be in their thirties, forties, or even over fifty and get their CDL because they may have spent their entire lives in a dead-end job or in a dead-end profession that only pays so much.”
Those truckers see it as “a way out,” Atkins said. Others may “fall in” because they have truck drivers in the family, or know other truck drivers.
“It’s not people’s first choice. It’s usually a last resort.”
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