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With many elements in the U.S. supply chain still going nowhere fast, discount retail giant Walmart has raised the starting salary for its truck drivers after the industry lost 4,900 truckers in one year alone.
Starting wages will jump from $87,500 to between $95,000 and $110,000, according to Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield.
The company will also incentivize current employees at their distribution centers to become truckers for the company after a 12-week certification course taught by Walmart’s own drivers, the Daily Mail reported.
The announcement came Thursday in light of the American Trucking Association’s latest estimate from October that the U.S. is short of truckers by a number of about 80,000. They predict that number will double by 2030 if nothing changes.
So far, around 20 Walmart employees have earned their commercial driver’s licenses through the 12-week course in Dallas and Dover, Delaware. An additional 400-800 employees are expected to do the same this year, Hatfield said.
Profit margins have increased among retailers like Costco, Amazon and Target, but thanks to a heavy-handed government and very short-sighted COVID restrictions in the transportation industry, thousands lost their jobs or quit them, and the skilled labor shortage is currently nowhere near a level commensurate with the demand for goods.
“We want to make sure we continue to attract drivers, but also retain” employed drivers, Karisa Sprague, senior vice president of Walmart’s human resources, told The Wall Street Journal.
Walmart currently has 12,000 drivers on its payroll which is still not enough, and similar companies are also raising wages for drivers and adding signing bonuses in some cases.
“You can pull up job postings and there are lots of sign-on bonuses and shiny objects out there, and we want to make sure our associates are taken care of,” Sprague said.
As the largest retailer in the nation, Walmart has consistently paid its drivers more than the industry average, but such was not always the case. In its early days, a much larger fleet was thought to reduce costs and speed up acquisition times, but with a finite wage pool from which to allocate.
In the U.S., the average salary for heavy and/or tractor-trailer operators was $47,130 in 2020, as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since 2016, that median has risen by around 3 to 4 percent each year.
The average cost of training someone for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000, based on readily available data online from various trucking companies. In most cases, it is always cheaper to hire from within as Walmart’s in-house training program would indicate.
“We know that the industry isn’t necessarily building more drivers, but we want to be able to continue the growth of our private fleet,” Sprague said. “We need to find multiple ways to do it.”
As BPR reported in October, the shortage of truckers industry-wide under the Biden administration has been “the worst I’ve ever seen” according to the CEO of Total Trucking in Mississippi.
Trucks in the U.S. reportedly haul 12 billion tons of freight a year, which typically accounts for around 70 percent (pre-pandemic) of all freight shipped in and around America, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
“Everything you eat, touch [or] wear comes from a truck, and it takes a driver in this truck to get it to there,” the CEO said.
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