Just like every other industry, trucking firms are struggling to find employees.
Local managers say it’s a competitive field, and they draw in new talent with not only good pay but also preferred routes and amenities such as a laundromat.
“All of our trucks are full right now, but we could add 10 additional drivers and keep them busy year-round,” said Robert Bjerke, president and owner of Western Specialized Inc. in Mankato. “We’re that busy. I could add 10 and be happy.”
“We have five new trucks coming this year that we’re looking for drivers for yet, plus a couple sitting in the yard I would like to put full-time drivers in,” said Ben Froehlich, vice president of asset operations at Volk Transfer in Mankato.
“We’re looking for five over-the-road drivers and a couple of full-time local drivers.”
John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, said the workforce is the No. 1 issue facing the trucking industry.
“It’s that simple,” he said. “When I speak to trucking companies, the statement is often made, ‘If I only had five more drivers, I’d have a truck for every one of them.’”
The industry has been competitive with wages too, according to Hausladen. “They have done multiple increases in a one-year period,” he said. “It’s been that aggressive.”
The MTA reports that the average annual trucking industry salary is $50,627. Total trucking industry wages paid in Minnesota in 2017 exceeded $7 billion, the MTA says.
Throughout Minnesota, the industry is short 5,285 drivers, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development as quoted by Hausladen. Nationally, the number is staggering: The trucking industry is short 80,000 drivers with that projected to grow to 160,000 drivers by 2030.
“It’s a critical issue for the entire country, because most everything spends some time on a truck,” Hausladen said. “Even if something travels most of its miles by rail or ship, the first mile and the last mile are accomplished by a truck and the professional driver inside of it.”
D & A Truck Line Inc. of New Ulm has 42 trucks and 44 drivers, but general manager Kevin Fischer said he’s looking to add three to four more drivers.
D & A specializes in timely deliveries but the result of the truck driver shortage is that customers sometimes need to wait extra days for a delivery, Fischer said. Bjerke agrees, saying trucking is like any other industry where customers are waiting longer for their orders because of staffing shortages.
“It’s a huge problem,” Fischer said of the driver shortage. “I’ve been here 36 years and it is huge. We knew this was coming 20 years ago. There was a lot of talk about it. It’s hard to find young drivers. There’s not enough schools out there.”
The average age of truck drivers is their mid-50s, industry experts say. With so few younger drivers coming on board, the shortage is expected to remain the norm.
“It’s an issue, and it’s only going to get worse going forward,” Froehlich of Volk said.
“It shows that they’re not getting into the business,” he said of younger drivers, “because otherwise that age average would come down. For many, many years, truck driver was something you did if you couldn’t do anything else. That’s not true any more. Now it’s a skilled workforce just like anything else and it pays very well.”
Bjerke said there are pluses to having older, veteran drivers, as they have experience and are proven, safe drivers. He said driver retention comes down to a lot more than money. Having amenities and treating them well goes far.
“The challenge of recruiting drivers is to find that driver who is not completely satisfied where they’re at,” he said. “To be able to visit with them one on one and to let them know the type of program we have. It might be a route change, amenities we offer such as a laundromat, shower and a lounge with a kitchen for drivers.”
“Pay isn’t the only answer,” Bjerke said. “How they’re treated is a big thing.”
One of Bjerke’s drivers, Tiffany Dingwell, said he’s dead on. She’s been with his team for three years and has been a truck driver for 16 years. She appreciates the amenities Bjerke offers, such as the under-construction laundromat and showers.
“One of the main questions he asks is ‘What can we do to make your work world better?’” Dingwell said. “It took him a little bit of time to get everything together but he’s doing it. He is very good at listening to his drivers and making our lives better.”
Dingwell said Bjerke caters to his drivers with routes through areas of the country where they have family and homes. For her, that has been the Pacific Northwest, but for others it’s Texas or Arizona. Wherever they have relatives, Bjerke will work to make sure they drive nearby.
“I’m turning 50 years old soon,” Dingwell said. “I’ve worked for quite a few people over the years in various industries, and I can say he’s the best boss I’ve ever had because of his integrity and how he does things and how he treats his people.”