(WXYZ) — As a nationwide truck driver shortage comes into focus, big salaries are drawing more and more attention.
Amazon and Walmart are driving prices up with major shipping needs, Walmart drawing attention just last month when it announced raising driver salaries to nearly $90,000 a year. The competition to keep drivers is tough as roughly two-thirds of the nation’s freight is moved by truck, and consumer demand is increasing regularly.
“At the end of the day there’s not magically going to appear 900,000 drivers,” said Eric Kinnie, head of Kinnie-Annex Transportation group.
The nearly 1 million drivers he references is the estimated shortage currently. Kinnie, whose company is based in Warren, said that the shortage is the most commonly discussed at trucking groups but the effect will spread far beyond the industry. Whether it’s groceries, the gas you pump into your car or even the creamer in a coffee you grab on your way to work at the local coffee shop everything gets shipped by trucks.
“I guess the long-term goal we have is to rethink the process of how you get people that want to drive,” said Kinnie.
Kinnie has filled many of his own driver positions through the Meritor/Focus HOPE Truck Driving Training program — roughly 15 of his drivers come through the program — there’s also a push to recruit younger drivers for a trade that’s quickly earning more and more money.
Will Robinson, a candidate for Michigan’s Trucker Driver of the Year award, is one of the 15 newer employees Kinnie found through the Focus HOPE program. It’s a program that screens interested candidates and funds training for lower income candidates. To date, Meritor has funded the training with $450,000 to put drivers on the road.
“Smartest decision I ever made,” said Robinson, who has been driving for three years.
Before Robinson was a truck driver he was working for a delivery service for roughly $8.50 an hour. These days he’s up for awards, moved into a new house and looking forward to his new career.
“It definitely gives me a lot of pride in how far I’ve come,” said Robinson. “The accomplishments, the struggles it took to this point — this changed my life completely.”
There are other options that could help — Congress is looking at the possibility of lowering the interstate truck driving age from 21 to 18, Kinnie said that would help them attract young people who want to go into trades. The current system only allows drivers under 21 to drive in-state routes that are highly sought after by older drivers who don’t want to spend long times away from their families, which lets other trades scoop of workers before they become drivers.
Kinnie said they also need to attract more people to the industry as many drivers are preparing to retire.
“Some people have negative feelings about the industry, but that shouldn’t be the case anymore,” said Kinnie. “People see a truck driver as this and that, but they’re not… we’ve seen W2s at 150- and 175-thousand dollars.”
You can find more information about the Meritor/Focus HOPE Truck Driving Training program here.