It's a Monday evening, and Mike Gaffin is heading out of New Jersey and toward his Boston-area home, where he is hoping to stop by and see his wife -- something of a rarity during the week. Since Gaffin is a long-haul truck driver, weeknights at home aren't guaranteed. And a 40-hour workweek? That's for slackers.
Gaffin hauls freight throughout the Northeast. During his career, he has been through almost every major city in the continental United States. It's a demanding job, but it's work Gaffin enjoys. His father is a truck driver. "All I ever wanted to do when I was a kid was drive trucks," says Gaffin.
"[Trucking] is a good choice for men or women interested in being able to move around the country and always find a job," says Nance Harris, vice president of member services for the Nebraska Trucking Association, a trade group for commercial truck and bus operators in Nebraska. "It's also a good choice if you want great job security and a good income, and if you enjoy meeting people and can work well under deadlines."
A Cure for the Common 9-to-5
Gaffin can legally work 70 hours a week, but because no trip is ever the same, time spent getting the job done often varies. Weather conditions, bad roads, traffic jams or accidents, highway construction and other elements make each trip eventful. "You've got to have a good work ethic," says Gaffin. "You can't get lazy and you have to be on time, because everything is time-sensitive."
In Nebraska, the trucking industry employs one out of every 11 workers in the state. Wages are 36 percent higher than the state's average for the private industry. Depending on where you gain experience, entry-level truck drivers can earn about $30,000 per year, Harris says. Experienced drivers can earn more than $65,000 per year. Ten years ago, Gaffin was making $40,000. Today, he and most of his colleagues make up to $85,000 per year. According to Gaffin, there are husband-and-wife tandems in the industry who earn more than $100,000 per year, because they can log more miles and take shifts driving.
Safety, Reliability First
Gaffin and Harris emphasize the importance of securing a clean driving record, free of accidents, DUIs and other moving violations. With rising insurance costs, companies can't afford to hire employees who are risks.
Ryan Stanton, vice president of Minnesota-based Ace Blacktop, says that "a good driver is a valuable asset to the company; anyone can learn how to drive a truck and get a job, but not everyone can learn how to operate a truck safely and keep that job. That's why there is always a demand in this field for skilled, trained drivers."
Hit the Road
Gaffin offers the following tips for a successful career in truck driving:
- Attend a reputable driving school not only to learn how to drive a truck, but also to get an understanding of the laws, regulations and safety issues involved with the job.
- Get used to irregular sleep patterns, and don't expect to always get eight hours of sleep at night. "Sometimes you have to go when the traffic is less congested and the road conditions are better, especially if there is a storm forecasted," Gaffin says.
- Watch what you eat. "So many truckers are overweight, because they are always on the go and have to stop and eat whenever the time allows, and that usually means eating fast food," Gaffin says.
- Commit to a company for at least a year. Like in any industry, some companies are better than others, but it's important to learn as much as you can at one job before moving on. "You'll likely have to pay your dues before finding the company and driving opportunity that is right for you," Gaffin explains.
Now's the Time
If job security is what you need, trucking is a choice field. The American Trucking Associations reports a serious shortage in some segments of the industry that could disrupt the US distribution system. It's not a shortage of freight or equipment; surprisingly, it's not enough men and women qualified to drive trucks.
"We're moving the world," says Gaffin. "If it weren't for truck drivers, the business world could not succeed."