Truckers can haul up to $20,000 per week. So why is there a severe shortage of drivers?

Trucker Eric Mesker does not hesitate to work at night, sometimes 14 or 15 hours in a row. There is less traffic and he manages to sleep after a long shift.

The 37-year-old Fort Worth-based Sisu Energy driver works those night shifts two to three weeks a month, hauling frac sand for the transportation company serving the oil and gas industry. He spends the rest of the month with his family in North Texas.

And he brings in between $14,000 and $15,000 every week he works.

“The [are] guys staying there,” Mesker said. “All the time. There’s work, so they’re going to work.

Across the country, trucker wages are rising as a labor shortage weighs on a nation suddenly aware of the supply chain’s dependence on the men and women who pilot big rigs. According to the American Trucking Associations, almost all goods consumed in the United States are put on a truck at some point.

For Mesker, the pay hike meant an extra few thousand dollars each week he drove, starting in 2021.

Sisu Energy founder and owner Jim Grundy said some of his top drivers made more than $20,000 a week, including one who made $29,000. Grundy has 200 to 300 openings for truck operators in Texas, Louisiana and Mexico.

Jim Grundy is the founder of Sisu Energy LLC.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

“Our top 10 percent make $22,000, $23,000, $24,000 a week, but we’re not talking about 80 percent of our fleet making $16,000 a week,” Grundy said. “When you break that out, of course, there’s over $700,000 in revenue per year for truckers. That’s more than the guys on Wall Street.

But it’s still not easy for Grundy to get the talent he needs. For starters, he doesn’t own any trucks. Its drivers operate themselves and share their revenue with the company – 83% goes to the driver. Mesker said the cost differs each month to own a truck, depending on maintenance and gas prices. But insurance can cost between $187 and $240 per week.

The trucking industry has seen many changes in the pandemic, including higher rates for...
The trucking industry has seen many changes during the pandemic, including higher rates for truckers during the driver shortage.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

“It’s not going to fix itself overnight,” Grundy said. “We’re talking about a multi-year problem here.”

Before the pandemic began, there was a nationwide shortage of truckers. Now, this shortage is amplified. The American Trucking Associations said last year the industry was facing a historic shortage, requiring 80,000 drivers.

Average weekly earnings for long-haul truckers have grown four to five times faster than the historical average, according to Transport Topics, citing data from the US Department of Labor.

Grundy said many veteran drivers retired early in the pandemic.

“A lot of people have left the industry completely; a lot of people lost their jobs,” Grundy said. “They couldn’t pay for the trucks. It was catastrophic, economically speaking, for a lot of people in the industry. So these were companies that really had the leverage and the buying power to maintain a certain level of operations.

Driving schools for truckers have also been closed during the pandemic, preventing any potential influx of new drivers, Grundy said.

Insurance is another barrier to bringing new drivers onto the road. More than 172,000 drivers in Texas held commercial driver’s licenses in 2020. Insurance companies generally do not insure commercial drivers who are not at least 25 years old, according to Grundy, although the Texas Department of Transportation allows 21-year-olds to obtain a permit. .

“You really can’t get these premium opportunities like working for us because the insurance companies won’t let you work for it,” Grundy said. “They won’t insure you.”

On December 16, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor launched a 90-day trucking apprenticeship challenge to help develop recorded apprenticeships in trucking. After 60 days, the challenge has seen over 260 employers and industry partners volunteer to develop the apprenticeship programs.

Grundy is not alone in his search for drivers.

Kevin Kokjohn, Addison Transportation’s vice president of operations, agreed the pandemic has made the shortage worse and said it’s even making young workers unwilling to be drivers. Addison Transportation is a freight brokerage company that acts as an intermediary between a freight forwarder and a road carrier. Shippers contact Addison Transportation to arrange for motor carriers to move freight.

“As the age (to drive) got higher and higher and drivers retired, it didn’t replace the drivers who retired,” Kokjohn said. “It’s sort of a long-term problem.”

Noting how working from home places greater emphasis on the supply chain, Kokjohn said he’s seen slower response times for different issues that arise, leading to inefficiencies.

The trucking industry moved over 72% of all freight transported in the United States in 2019. In 2020, the industry generated over $732 billion in gross freight revenue.

If the industry can’t entice drivers into truck cabs, the American Trucking Associations fears the driver shortage could top 160,000 by 2030.

“It’s going to be a big issue,” Grundy said.

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