If you have a clean driving record, good personal habits and are 21-plus, chances are you can get a truck driving job.
"The driver shortage has been with us for some time and will not likely improve anytime soon," says trucking industry expert Jim Bowers. "Driving and delivering freight around North America cannot be outsourced."
Companies are working hard to increase wages, benefits and trucking quality of life in order to attract new truckers. "There is so much competition for experienced drivers with drug-free, clean driving records that a good driver need only decide which offer fits their needs," Bowers says.
So how do you decide which type of trucking opportunity to pursue? The first step in choosing the right job for you is knowing your options. Check out this advice from two trucking experts.
Major Trucking Categories
You can start by studying the Bureau of Labor Statistics' two main trucker descriptions:
- Heavy-truck and tractor-trailer drivers operate trucks or vans with a capacity of at least 26,000 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). Their job is to transport cars, livestock and other materials in liquid, loose or packaged form. Many of their routes are from city to city and cover long distances. Some companies use two drivers on extra-long runs -- one drives while the other sleeps in a berth behind the cab. These sleeper runs can last for days, even weeks. Trucks on sleeper runs typically stop only for fuel, food, loading and unloading.
Long-distance, heavy-truck and tractor-trailer drivers may have to load or unload their cargo. This is especially common when drivers haul specialty cargo.
- Light- or delivery-services truck drivers operate vans and trucks weighing less than 26,000 pounds GVW, picking up or delivering merchandise and packages within a specific area. Sometimes these assignments require quick turnarounds: delivering a shipment to a nearby city, picking up another loaded truck or van, and driving that vehicle back to their home base -- all in the same day. Light- or delivery-services truck drivers usually load or unload the merchandise for the customer.
Some local truck drivers have sales and customer-service responsibilities. The primary responsibility of driver/sales workers, or route drivers, is to deliver and sell their firm's products over established routes or within an assigned territory. They sell food products, including restaurant takeout items, or pick up and deliver laundry and other items. Their response to customer complaints and requests can make the difference between winning an order and losing a customer. Route drivers may also take orders and collect payments.
Long-Haul vs. Short-Haul
Long-haul driving is the most in-demand job. Drawbacks include days and weeks away from home, so companies compensate by paying extremely well -- an average of 50 cents per mile, says trucking recruiter Franc Gomez.
Gomez cites a scenario: A 2,800-mile load yields $1,400, which a driving team could split. The trip will take about 52 hours. "That means that in (less than three) days, a team of two can earn $700 per member," he says. "Taking into account that most drivers will take a total of six weeks off throughout the year, each team member can gross $69,000 per year. If the team is composed of a husband and a wife, that's a combined $138,000 per year."
Short-haul drivers get to be home more often, but the work requires city driving, backing into docks, and sometimes loading and unloading work, Bowers says. Some drivers must also double as salespeople. For example, a wholesale bakery driver/sales worker might deliver and arrange baked goods on a grocery store's display racks.
Still unsure whether you should go after a trucking career? In addition to following these tips for becoming a trucker, you should ask questions of potential trucking employers and talk to trucking schools and recruiters.
"Assess your own qualifications in light of these demands, and make sure that the negative does not outweigh the positive," Gomez advises. "Then find a good truck-driver training school, and compare the companies that will seek to recruit you once you graduate."