The reason you can’t find people to work the low wage jobs isn’t the additional federal unemployment benefits. There are many reasons you aren’t finding people. The shit wages you pay are only part of it.
I get so tired of the Trump Nazi team pushing this agenda that the federal unemployment benefits are the reason nobody will take a shit job. If that plays a role, it’s a tiny one. The local GOP Tabloid ran an article about the truck driver shortage over the weekend and they tried to finger the unemployment benefits. Not even close boys and girls!
We will start with trucking. I know a bit about trucking. I have a CDL in my wallet. We’ve had trucks on the farm all my life. I even spent a month or so driving an 18-wheeler around the country for Covenant Transportation. I don’t drive for hire anymore nor will I again. I haven’t kept up on the medical card so I can only drive around the farm and within the state, just not for hire.
Let me put this in perspective for you
You generally get three types of people enrolling in truck driving school.
- People who think driving a big rig is cool and has been their life-long ambition from childhood.
- People who are cast out of or burned out from other professions.
- No other good choice.
My father was one of those first types and he couldn’t understand why I never wanted to drive. I don’t think he was ever prouder of me than when I got burned out on IT and started driving. Yes, he was pissed off I enrolled in a school and wouldn’t let him “just teach me.”
When I went to driving school I had just stepped out of a project from Hell. Yes, I was billing at $75/hr and working a ton of hours, but the project had needless roadblocks and tons of politics. This “Six month project” I left 3.25 years later. I honestly thought I was leaving IT for good.
At the time I signed up Covenant was the best paying big firm to come recruit at the school. During your training you got paid as a team which was 0.21/mile for the team. You each got 10.5 cents per mile no matter which one of you was driving the truck. If the company had good marketers and if you didn’t have a dispatcher that was looking out for themselves instead of you, 200,000 miles per year was doable. Yep. You capped out around $21K.
Obviously I didn’t do it for the money
One guy in my driving school was pushed out of his electrical engineering/service gig because he was north of 40 and the company wanted to replace him with a cheaper, younger person. The place was union and the number of years he had in meant he had to be paid well. What they did was have someone from outside the company send him an email with some dating site images or something like that. They were racy but not what most people would consider porn. He was out working on site all day without access to his company computer. When he got in he was told to report to where-ever and they fired him for having porn on a company computer. You see, that was one loophole in the union contract. If a “Hot Russian Bride” spam email showed up with scantily clad images in it while you were out on site (or vacation) they could can your ass for having porn on a company computer.
Don’t ever let your child grow up to be an MBA. That’s the kind of ethics they have.
One of the guys in the class in front of me had multiple felonies. He was desperately trying to improve his life. He couldn’t work for any of the big firms because those felonies weren’t old enough. About a week after he passed the class we saw him driving for a local farm service company. We all commented on what a good thing it was to see. No, he wasn’t a violent gang banger or anything like that. Just had some stupid shit and a few people who hated him enough to not let him start his life over.
Pre-pandemic, to keep wages low, some companies worked out deals or arrangements with truck driving schools. If you signed some kind of contract with the company and passed the background check and committed to something like four years, the company would pay for your driving school after you passed. Schools with those arrangements had many more of the third category. I’m not dissing them man. Those people are most likely to stay in trucking as long as they can because it is way better than what they came from.
Driving school is only a few weeks but it cost about $5000 back when I enrolled. For people currently earning $2.50/hr plus tips that’s a lot of money. I didn’t even really think about it.
Note: One of the reasons you see so many consultants and freelancers declare bankruptcy or end up on Welfare is they think the gravy train will never end. Read this post series about Financial Lessons the Pandemic Should Have Taught You.
There were quite a few married couples when I showed up for “orientation.” Most were leaving jobs like security guard and school bus driving behind. As a team they could pull down around $40K and if they had no housing costs back home, they could bank somewhere between $20-$30K.
Yes, they all seem to have about a week long “orientation.” Five minutes into day one after breakfast they have you take a pee test. Covenant was a Holy Roller company so they had a 0.0% tolerance of alcohol. The Federal DOT drug test yesterday’s beer showing up in your pee test, but Covenant did. They told us that many times and they booted one dude who went up the street a few blocks on his first night to have a beer after checking in.
One young kid in orientation I had to ride in the van with on the trip to our training drivers. He had been living on the street for a few years. He got into driving school via one of those “we will pay for it” deals. Again, I’m not dissing him. I didn’t probe as to how he ended up on the street. We’ve all heard stories. You couldn’t get a CDL until after you turned 21 so he had to tough it out before he could better his situation. I hope it worked out well for him.
I really liked my trainer. I don’t remember his name, but remember his voice. He was a southern kid who only wanted to drive a big rig because he couldn’t get into NASCAR. I still remember his voice.
The reality of driving for a big fleet hits you pretty early.
- When they are getting ready to load you into a van to catch your team driver somewhere in America, they call you about ten minutes before the van is going to leave. They don’t care if you have a load in the wash.
- If your dispatcher gets mad at you for any reason they will let you sit in a parking lot for days without a load.
- All of those Qualcomm messages from Safety & Security mean nothing to dispatch. You have to be on-time even if the mountain passes have 50+MPH wind gusts.
- Some dispatcher’s would/will force you to use cruise control in bad weather.
I don’t remember if it was my training driver or myself that honked off our dispatcher. Honestly, we probably both took turns. According to my trainer our dispatcher had left and been back a few times.
You have to know somebody
Before we left driving school for jobs, the guy who oversaw the driving school at that location came in and told us his phone number. He also told us the story of his very own son who had recently completed that same course getting dropped off with his training driver. The driver parked in the back of a grocery store parking lot and had his girlfriend pick him up. He told the student driver “I’ll see you Monday.”
At some point over that weekend son called dad and told him what was up. Son had no money. This was a grocery store, not a truck stop so he couldn’t even cash a Comm-Check to get something to eat. (Most fleets will front you $20-$25 to eat if your account is empty and you are in a truck.) Son didn’t want to get fired and didn’t know what to do.
Dad hung up and called either the actual recruiter or the home recruiting office for the fleet. Told them the story. Said if they didn’t fix this problem the wouldn’t be allowed to recruit at the school anymore. Several hours later the trainer showed up and said they even had a load to pick up.
We were told to write down his phone number and if anything like that happened at one of the fleets we signed onto to call him directly. You have to understand just how big a percentage of drivers at any given fleet came through one of these schools.
Trucking is a high turnover industry. They told us during orientation that roughly 50% of us would quit before testing out. Historically about 10% or so fail to test out.
What they didn’t tell us is that 50% quit not because they can’t deal with not getting a shower every day. It’s because they cannot deal with being treated like a meat puppet. There is all kinds of talk about happy drivers during hiring but once you are in the cab, they couldn’t care less about you.
After my team driver and I had spent something like three days cooling our heels because our dispatcher was honked off at us for some reason, my team driver called someone he knew in the home office. Two hours later we were heading to pick up a load. Gospel truth, if he hadn’t done it I think we would still be sitting there all of these years later.
I have a tanker rating on my license. I’ve never hauled for hire with tanker, but I met and spoke with many who do/did. Besides being high risk, it is high injury. I spoke with one guy at a wake for his grandfather who dearly loved his tanker job but it was no more. He slipped or something and grabbed hold to stop fall messing up his rotor cup or something. While he would heal up to drive, he couldn’t drag all of the hoses to connect tank to tank. Might not have even been able to pass the range of motion test for the DOT physical.
Yes, you see all of the stories about the shortage of tanker drivers. We will discuss that in part 2.