The trucking industry has been facing a massive worker shortage, leaving some store shelves empty. The truck driver shortage in America hit an all-time high in fall 2021 with more than 80,000 open positions, but the industry has changed in recent months.
Lately, truck driving schools are getting more applications as wages increase and companies offer other incentives.
"This is an occupation where you can earn a middle-class lifestyle and support a family of four still, depending on where you live," said Bob Costello, the American Trucking Associations’ chief economist.
Nebraska has a lot of enormous truck fleets that need more drivers, and that’s part of the reason Roadmaster Drivers School just opened its 21st location in Omaha. Costello says trucking is one of the few jobs where wages are going up faster than inflation, and more applications to these schools means more future drivers on the road.
Roadmaster Drivers School President Brad Ball says as supply chain disruptions became more obvious, there’s been an application overload at many of the school schools.
"There’s a wait to get in some of our schools," Ball said. "A lot more people are interested in the job because they’re seeing the benefits. They’re seeing there’s no pay gap tied to race or gender. This industry isn’t looking for college degrees. They’re just looking for people that are willing to work hard."
The paychecks for truck drivers are also looking fatter.
"The average weekly earnings for truck drivers across the longer-haul segments is going up at four and half times the historical average. So, I suspect that is resonating with a lot of folks," said Costello.
New students at Roadmaster’s Omaha school say the trucker life is looking pretty good.
"Why not join the truck company so I can explore the states, the country, while getting paid for it," said Haiti native and new trucking student Ralph Saint Baptiste.
From bookwork to inspections and hours on the road, it takes dedication to eventually become a truck driver. Cameo Holliday used to be a surveillance officer and was looking for a different career path.
"This one seems to be the one that needs the most help, so here I am," Holliday said.
He admits that supply chain issues were less important to him than the pay rate, but he says if he can help the country get back on track, he’s all for it. So are his classmates.
"I hope we are part of the solution to get the supply chain going again and get products moving everywhere it needs to be going," student Josh Blaisdell said.
For Blaisdell, trucking runs in his family. His father, Mike Blaisdell, is a driver and has driven two million accident-free miles. Transportation and logistics company Werner Enterprises has a program called Family Traditions through which a driver can sponsor an immediate family member to receive training free of charge at a Roadmaster school.
It takes about five to six weeks of training and classes until a student becomes a truck driver. Overall, the trucking students at the Roadmaster Omaha school want to be a part of a national solution.
"Driving a truck to deliver stuff all over the country, you feel like you’re doing something important. You feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself," said Saint Baptiste.
Even if this new boom in trucking students helps ease the trucker shortage, the shortage hasn't been eliminated. On top of this, new trucks are hard to come by because of supply chain issues, microchip shortages and other factors.