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Fleets must ditch the 'earn-your-stripes' mentality for newer drivers

Dec. 8, 2022
When it comes to both pay momentum and career development, newer entrant drivers expect rapid and frequent growth. Fleets must be proactive in offering a pay progression model that fits these demands.

As nearly every motor carrier and private fleet have experienced in their recruiting programs, it’s much more challenging to attract a seasoned driver away from a best-in-class job than it is to court a newer driver and put them on a path toward long-term retention at your fleet. To attract and retain industry newcomers over the past year, however, fleets have had to be aggressive in evaluating and adjusting pay packages for drivers at the lower end of the experience scale—those with two years of driving experience or less.

Survey data from The National Transportation Institute tells the story clearly. Drivers with one year of experience are now out-earning top-paid drivers from just a few years ago, 2018’s fourth quarter. That’s according to data from NTI’s National Survey of Driver Wages, which has tracked the heights to which mileage and hourly wages for industry newcomers has soared over the past 18 months.

While per-mile and hourly pay for drivers of all experience levels has shown strong and steady growth over the past two years, the momentum of wage growth among drivers at the lower end of the experience scale has been the most pronounced. For example, year over year, compared to 2021’s fourth quarter, solo drivers with one year of experience are earning 5.9% more per mile on average. That’s compared to a 3.2% gain for so-called cap pay drivers—the highest earners with the most experience. 

See also: Dynamics of truck driver pay

That’s significant wage growth for this segment of the driver pool, and it’s evident in seeing this year’s mileage pay data represented in the National Survey of Driver Wages. There’s a clear migration up the pay scale for solo drivers with one year of experience.

A mindset shift toward career-path development

The takeaway for motor carriers trying to recruit and retain drivers with one year of experience is clear: This segment of the driver pool expects rapid and frequent wage growth, and fleets must be proactive in offering a pay progression model that fits these demands. They also must market those fast wage-growth opportunities in their recruiting and retention programs. 

The “earn-your-stripes” mentality is quickly becoming an ideal of the past. Newer drivers entering the industry, numbering in the hundreds of thousands over the past two years, won’t abide by that attitude. There are too many opportunities for them to find a job either within or outside of trucking that fits their pay and scheduling expectations. With generational shifts ongoing among trucking’s workforce and the labor market at large, that trend’s not likely to change. In fact, it will likely become even more entrenched. 

So, there’s a mindset shift that must take place internally at all levels of your organization to recognize this evolution and respond accordingly. While that’s of course true for pay, it’s also true for another vital component of your driver recruiting and retention programs: career-path development.

See also: Recruiting and retention in trucking: A continuous engagement

This is a point we hit on frequently at NTI in our work with fleets of all sizes. The pervasive lack of career path—or at least a stated and understood path—for professional drivers is absolutely a contributor to the churn of industry exits. On the flip side, there’s immense long-term value to fleets, to drivers, and to the industry as a whole of providing a proper career path and communicating it clearly and consistently to your professional drivers.

Just like the outdated “earn your stripes” attitude needs to go the way of the wagon for pay progression models, fleets must also actively evaluate and create clearly defined career development and upskilling opportunities for personnel across their organization, including and especially their professional drivers.

This shows your people that you view your opportunities as careers, not as stop-gap jobs, and that you care about the long-term growth of your people personally and in their careers with you.

So, work diligently to map out what a career path looks like at your fleet at all levels of your company.

Find the opportunities for advancement, and make sure it’s an accelerated plan that shows fast growth for those who earn it. You can’t expect young people, especially in entry-level roles, to work the same job for five years anymore. You probably can’t realistically expect people to work the same job for three years, likely even two years, in the early stages of their career. Establishing those growth opportunities within your company is vital. Even for drivers—find opportunities to reward them for their tenure and time with you, in whatever way that looks like at your fleet.

See also: Now is not the time to pull back on driver recruiting, retention

Then, be proactive in communicating all of that to your people. Work your internal marketing programs. Use social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok to promote achievements of those within your organization.  Use company newsletters, video messages, face-to-face meetings, and check-ins from operations leaders and driver managers to clearly communicate and sell the career path and opportunities that you have at your company.

Motor carriers and private fleets alike experience the most driver churn among their newest hires, and there’s a strong crossover segment of industry newcomers (those with one year of experience or less) and the churn among early-tenured drivers.

Drivers with a year of experience or less outnumber their more experienced job-seeking peers by a three-to-one margin. To reach this cohort and to effectively recruit and retain them, there needs to be a clearly defined and clearly communicated pay progression plan in place at your fleet for newer entrant drivers, as well as clearly defined opportunities for upward career growth. 

Leah Shaver is president and CEO of The National Transportation Institute. NTI has tracked and analyzed professional driver and technician compensation and benefits data since 1995 utilizing proprietary research and surveys of for-hire motor carriers and private fleets. NTI tracks wages and benefits trends on a quarterly and annual basis with the National Survey of Driver Wages and the National Driver Wage Index, as well as other studies. Prior to joining NTI and 2015 and assuming ownership of the company in 2020, Shaver headed the HR and recruiting departments at a large Midwest-based for-hire motor carrier.

About the Author

Leah Shaver

Leah Shaver is president and CEO of The National Transportation Institute. NTI has tracked and analyzed professional driver and technician compensation and benefits data since 1995 utilizing proprietary research and surveys of for-hire motor carriers and private fleets. NTI tracks wages and benefits trends on a quarterly and annual basis with the National Survey of Driver Wages and the National Driver Wage Index, as well as other studies. Prior to joining NTI and 2015 and assuming ownership of the company in 2020, Shaver headed the HR and recruiting departments at a large midwestern-based for-hire motor carrier.

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