Fleets responding to newer drivers’ expectations for wage growth momentum

As nearly every motor carrier and private fleet has 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. In order to attract and retain industry newcomers over the past year, however, fleets have 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 and less.

NTI data tells the story clearly, so much so that 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 the The National Transportation Institute’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. 

Drivers with one year of experience in 2022’s fourth quarter are earning more than the highest paid drivers in 2018’s fourth quarter. (Source: NTI’s National Survey of Driver Wages | mileage medians for solo drivers)

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.

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.  

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.  

NTI’s Leah Shaver wrote more in depth about this topic earlier this year. Read her analysis and guidance in this NTI blog post from June.  

If your fleet needs accurate, verified benchmarking data to guide your internal decisions about driver pay programs, contact NTI’s team of experts to learn how to access the National Survey of Driver Wages or other data solutions to fit your fleet’s needs.

Are you a member of the press and working on an article, video, podcast, webinar, or other content for which you’d like to reference NTI data or interview a source from The National Transportation Institute?
Email us at press@driverwages.com.


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