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I train new truckers. Here's why so many are leaving the industry.

Grace Dean   

I train new truckers. Here's why so many are leaving the industry.
  • Trucking companies are struggling to retain drivers, wreaking havoc across the supply chain.
  • Joe Kattermann trains truckers at a mega carrier, taking them through their first weeks in the industry.

This as-told-to article is based on a conversation with Joe Kattermann, who works as a CDL driver trainer at Werner Enterprises in Omaha, Nebraska. It has been edited for length and clarity.

There isn't a shortage of people willing to be truckers.

Instead, their industry just has a huge retention problem. Companies are hiring but people keep quitting, and it's an age-old problem.

As a CDL driver trainer, I work with people who are fresh from trucking school, where they got their commercial driver's license, and guide them through their first months at Warner Enterprise. I teach them things like how to navigate highways, complete paperwork, and use different truck stops.

Trucking companies paint unrealistic pictures of the industry, and that's why drivers want to quit.

New drivers don't earn enough

New drivers think they're automatically going to make a ton of money straight away. But that isn't the case.

Recruiters advertise earnings for drivers that nobody right out the gate would ever make.

Most drivers are paid based on the distance they drive. And how much you get paid per mile depends largely on experience – meaning new drivers don't get very much.

In the trucking industry, experience is key. It doesn't matter who you know, but what you how and for how long.

We can only drive for 11 hours a day, and we don't get paid for all the hours we work, either. It's typical to spend two or three hours waiting at a shipper or receiver, where we're stuck in our trucks and often aren't allowed to use the site's bathrooms. Because we're not usually paid based on time, we don't get any money for the wait.

Most new drivers start out at mega carriers – huge companies with thousands of trucks. My company pays well but most don't.

If the mega carriers were to pay more fairly, then they might see their retention rate climb significantly.

Trucking is a lifestyle change

Trucking isn't a profession. It's a lifestyle, and it isn't easy for everyone to adjust to. You've got to have the right mentality.

Most drivers are away from home for weeks on end. I'm usually away for two weeks and then home for two days, but it's not uncommon to be away for a month or more at a time.

Spending so much time away from your family is difficult, and can be a huge culture shock for new drivers. I have a three-year-old daughter that I've watched grow up over video chat. I spend more time video chatting with my family than I do actually with them.

And living out of a truck is a huge change to adapt to. I share bunk beds in my truck with the new driver I'm training, and I have a small fridge and microwave. It can be hard to cook properly and keep up with hobbies. Sometimes it feels like a moving jail cell.

Yet, I love being on the road because of the opportunities to travel and see different things every day.

I became a trucker trainer after spending time in the military. When I came back to civilian life, I really couldn't nail myself down to a profession. I tried trucking — and I loved it. My company pays its drivers well, too.

But things in this industry need to change, or it won't get over its huge retention problem.

Are you a trucker with a story? Email this reporter at


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