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Driver wages: The elephant in the room


I have been asked to take on this subject on many times by various readers and although I have touched on it on and off over the years on numerous occasions. I’ve never really gone at it head on so to speak, there is probably a couple of good reasons for this including but not limited to the fact that this subject is a bit of a rabbits hole. It can easily lead to many different places once you start heading down this road and you are likely to disenfranchise yourself with any number of folks no matter what position you take on these subjects. Having said all that lets get at it, as I have said many time before, and it is still true today, there is nothing more illusive than an obvious fact and this is one of those times!

The obvious fact here is that we live in a free market society whose economy runs on a supply and demand structure. The market will dictate the remuneration you’re paid, determined on the specialty of your trade or skill in conjunction with the scarcity of workers in your sector. So if one is to put forth the position that drivers are vastly underpaid the argument that there is a driver’s shortage holds no water and must be false, you simply can’t have it both ways. To do the subject justice it might need more than one article, it will definitely need your input, so please give me your feedback, and I want to hear from you on this, both company drivers and executives. I will give you my opinion on the only two paradigms that matter in this subject, first the driver’s then the companies.

When I look at this subject from a driver’s prospective I don’t blame any of you for being completely confused, over the last 3/4 decades you have been repeatedly heard and been told that there is a driver shortage and it is at a critical stage now, as it has been many times off and on in the past. Problem is, if this is in fact the case then why hasn’t the average driver wage reflected that reality, depending on where you search the internet the results you can expect to see is an average annual pay rates between 50K and 65K. Depending on where in the country you are based and the sector of trucking you work in.

Obviously something is amiss and has been for quite some time, extreme shortage and 57K annually don’t add up. To be accurate there a companies out there that have some driver making markedly more than this and likely some that pay less this is the average, the range I found was from 38K to 100K. The typical driver take home is greater for the most part than that of the general average over all sectors no doubt, but again I can see a high frustration level when folks in this profession are continually told of the egregious situation that the industry is facing with its overall lack of drivers.

It’s hard to bridge the gap between what we continually hear from industry trade magazines and the national press and what we see in the numbers and average pay scales, the two don’t add up no doubt about it, so what’s one to do if you’re a driver. A number of things come to mind especially in light of the fact that any number of driver surveys over the past couple decades reveal that money is not always the least satisfying element of the job, nor the top reason for a driver to quit their current carrier.

There are two messages here; one is for the drivers to first and always be checking the market to ensure that your being paid at or preferably above market rates for your services. If your research reveals that your not I would have the discussion with your employer and let them explain their perception of the situation. The second message is of course for the employers, that being to make driver pay packages understandable and explain them clearly. I might suggest an average base pay rate certainly no less than industry average for your sector is a good platform to start with then a gain share bonus plan predicated on all the familiar touch points, fuel burn, accident free miles, longevity, production, whatever they are for your company. These bonuses should provide the driver with the opportunity to get to the top of the range of driver wages in your area, finally and the most critical part of the strategy is they need for these gain share bonus plans to be obtainable, under promise and over deliver, what a concept right! You get this part right and the word gets out you may have something, you’d think anyway, reality is maybe not, because surprise surprise there is another twist waiting around the corner and it’s called a Human Resources Strategy and driver satisfaction.

So driver assuming you’ve done your homework, you are now aware of where you stand with your companies payment schedule relative to the rest of the market in your area, you can stop looking for greener grass and get to work now right, not quite. I have discussed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in previous articles and that we as human beings are driven to needs is a sequential order as is in our nature as human beings. For us to truly enjoy the sense of Physiological (or money) needs we have achieved we now need to move on to the Safety level and then of course up to the belongingness, esteem and finally self-actualization levels. If a company decided to lead the industry with their wage package they will still be challenged to retain their drivers unless they offer an entire package that includes a sense of community and all that goes with it.

Is there a driver shortage, to me the numbers reflected in driver wages would suggest there isn’t, not that I can see anyway? The churning of drivers in the industry is more a reflection of companies not spending near the amount of focus on their retention efforts than they do on building very efficient recruiting departments. When I ask most executives their turnover rates very rarely do I get a definitive clear answer, there is usually some hesitation and what looks to me as a very loose estimate of where they are at. This needs to change and until carriers realize that this subject needs to come out of the closet and be a daily focus of theirs moving forward we will as an industry continue to confuse driver shortages with driver wages levels.

Safe travels.


Ray Haight

Ray Haight

Mr. Ray Haight has enjoyed a successful career in transportation starting as a company driver and Owner Operator logging over one million accident free miles prior to starting his own company. After stepping down from a successful career managing one of Canada’s 50 largest trucking companies, Ray focused on industry involvement including terms as Chairman of each of the following, the Truckload Carriers Association, Professional Truck Drivers Institute, North American Training and Management Institute and the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities voluntary apprenticeship of Tractor Trailer Commercial Driver, along with many other business interests, he enjoys a successful consulting business, also sitting on various Boards of both industry associations a private motor carriers. He is also Co-Founder of StakUp O/A TCAinGauge an online bench marking service designed to assist trucking companies throughout North America focus on efficiency and profitability within their operations.
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11 Comments » for Driver wages: The elephant in the room
  1. john wihksne says:

    Hi Ray-I must say your article is very political. I have been involved in the Industry for over 50 years as Professional driver,training-Commercial accident investigation and fleet management for a BC. and Yukon Territories company, and also at least one million miles. Professional driving should have been classifies as a “Trade” years ago and the lobbyist’s and Government have made no commitment to upgrade trucking. Out west accidents are at a all time high due to mostly new Canadians driving due to minimal monetary return on time and investment. The majority of other “Trades” wage scale are much above “Minimum” wages of the trucking industry. “Shortage of Drivers”,who wants to work long hours for minimum wages. Please speak the truth of driver shortage!

  2. Kurt Keilhofer says:

    To those that say there is a driver shortage, perhaps the simplest question to ask is “How many loads have not been hauled because of this alleged shortage, and where are they sitting?”
    The fallacy of the driver shortage is that there is not a lack of freight being moved. If shipments that needed to move, and there were no trucks to move them, rates would jump up to get the product hauled.
    What there is are companies that would like to have more drivers to fill empty seats, either from large equipment purchases, or excessive turnover, both reflecting poor management.

  3. Ray Haight says:

    Please speak the truth of driver shortage! Speak the truth, you have me confused, where did I mislead John, do we not live in a free market economy? New Canadians, welcome to today and yesterday’s reality our country is built on new Canadians, if there was a shortage it would be reflected in the amount both new Canadians and old Canadian make. If you would like to get into a conversation of entry level training standards I can easily do that. BTW I also have a million accident free miles under my belt. Question to you my friend, what are you doing to copy what has gone on in Ontario with the MELT program in your province or territory?

    • Paul says:

      Ray

      Here is the truth, we do not live in a free market society, this society is undermined by the federal government’s allowing of temporary foreign workers to which provides a greater pool of cheap labour.

      In the days of regulated trucking there were no shortages of drivers, but back then we all made much better money.

  4. meslippery says:

    Is there a driver shortage, to me the numbers reflected in driver wages would suggest there isn’t, not that I can see anyway?
    ——–
    I agree 100% we have been lied to for 30 years nice.
    However what about keeping up with inflation never mind a raise.
    Think about this Ontario minimum wage is set to rise to $15.00 per hr.
    $15.00 x 44 =$660.00 plus time and half
    $22.50 x26 =$585.00 total $1245.00 per week x52 weeks= 64K.
    ——–
    ( depending on where you search the internet the results you can expect to see is an average annual pay rates between 50K and 65K
    Ray)
    ——–
    Truck drivers making minimum wage.
    Hows that for a starting point?

  5. meslippery says:

    There are two messages here; one is for the drivers to first and always be checking the market to ensure that your being paid at or preferably above market rates for your services.(Ray)
    —————–
    Lets hope when you check you are making minimum wage.
    Yeah the feds have a different way of minimum wage.
    Could be less than a fast food worker for truck drivers.

  6. meslippery says:

    Obviously something is amiss and has been for quite some time, extreme shortage and 57K annually don’t add up( Ray)
    ————–
    Ok but 57k is not a 40 hour week…. Like 70 hour 52 weeks a year ?????
    57 k a year just work sleep and jump when we say.

  7. john wihksne says:

    Ray-return on investment and”time,” line-driving is between 8 to 10 dollars an hour! Other “Trades out west pay 30 to 40 dollars an hour and all benefits for an 8 hour day!

  8. meslippery says:

    To do the subject justice it might need more than one article, it will definitely need your input, so please give me your feedback,
    —————-

    OK are truck drivers only worth minimum wage???
    Re: my first repliy

  9. john wihksne says:

    Professional driving should have been classed as a trade 50 years ago, and wage scale accordingly!

  10. Wally Blouin says:

    Hi Ray, When I first started driving in 1960 I was paid 4 cents a mile to drive Niagara to Florida. a year later I got married and was paid 5 cents a mile. I drove 3,000 miles a week. When I retired in 2002 I was paid 32 cents a mile and drove between 3,000 and 3,500 miles a week. I mostly pulled a reefer so I only worked 49 or 50 weeks a year. In all those years I never complained about low wages. I guess I was fortunate because I met many drivers that were getting paid a lot less than me.
    Having said that, I was on duty about 90 hours a week divide that by what I was getting paid in 2002 and it probably works out to about $10.00 an hour. I was away from home 5-6 days a week.

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