Have you ever driven down the highway and daydreamed about what it’s like to drive a big rig across the country? It’s a thought that many people have but too few pursue. Truck driving can be a fulfilling career if it’s the right fit for you.
The Trucking Industry Landscape
Jobs in the trucking industry can be divided according to the distance of routes. Over-the-road truckers drive the longest routes with regional and local routes being shorter. Most new truck drivers start out over the road, especially for larger carriers.
Currently, the trucking industry is short over 800,000 drivers. High turnover keeps this number high. Needless to say, there are lots of opportunities for new truckers to get over-the-road positions.
What to Expect from a Career in Trucking
A career in trucking can bring good wages, especially for workers without a college degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers made an average annual wage of $48,710 in 2020. That average drove up to $51,400 in California. Many of these drivers were employed by trucking companies, but a sizable portion was employed by wholesalers, warehousing facilities, and producers of raw materials.
The lifestyle of a truck driver can be demanding. Long-haul truckers can spend long hours on cross-country routes. They have to comply with DOT hours of service, but the job still requires stamina, strong senses, and good reflexes. Truckers have a good incentive to stay in shape, too. To maintain their CDL, truck drivers must pass a physical examination every two years.
How to Pursue a Career in Trucking
The most basic requirement for becoming a truck driver is earning your commercial driver’s license (CDL). Each class of vehicles has a corresponding level of CDL certification. Most long-haul drivers earn a CDL-A. You can earn additional endorsements to transport specialty products and vehicles. For example, drivers transporting passengers or hazardous materials need to earn specific endorsements.
Trucking is a great career option for many people in part because it doesn’t require a college degree. Instead, truckers need to obtain a series of licenses and permits pertinent to their work. To start out, you typically just need a high school diploma or GED and a driver’s license. Once you have met these basic requirements, there are three main pathways to a truck driving career.
Community College Programs
Attending community college programs for truck driving has a few benefits. Firstly, if you’re interested in getting a college degree, some offer one-year degrees as part of their truck driving programs. The cost varies from region to region, but you can expect to pay a few thousand dollars at minimum.
Private Truck Driving Schools
Private truck driving schools offer quality training; however, they tend to be more expensive upfront. Unlike community colleges, these institutions usually don’t offer scholarships or grants. If you choose this route, make sure that the training aligns with the industry standard of at least 160 hours of training.
Trucking Company Programs
Like other trades, some trucking companies offer on-the-job training for new drivers. Ask your company for specifics about costs and how the training is carried out.
Many truckers come to appreciate the opportunities for advancement at many trucking companies. Experienced drivers are needed for management and supervisory roles. In these roles, truck drivers audit records and help increase efficiencies. They also serve as points of contact for truckers who are on their routes.
Some ambitious truckers learn enough to strike out on their own as owner-operators. Although this requires some serious investment, it has a lot of the usual rewards of entrepreneurship. When truckers are self-employed, they have the potential to earn higher wages. They also have more autonomy in deciding with whom they work and what routes they take. For truckers who value that flexibility, it’s worth learning the ins and outs of running a business.
When truck drivers become proficient in their industry, they can bring their passion to educating the next generation of truckers. Experienced drivers can become instructors. This role often suits drivers who need to take time off from the road but want to stay active in the trucking industry. Each state has its own requirements for becoming an instructor. Most require at least three years of experience, a CDL, and a safe driving record.
How do I Know if a Career in Trucking is Right for Me?
When deciding whether truck driving is the right career for you, you have to weigh some pros and cons. You can make a decent living without a college degree and only about a year of training. There are also opportunities for advancement, whether you want to supervise, teach, or run your own fleet. Independent people often find they enjoy the self-reliance at the heart of trucking.
Of course, the reasons some people thrive in the trucking industry are the same reasons others burn out. Over-the-road truckers are away from home for long stretches of time. They may find it difficult to balance family commitments and health concerns. If you’re up for the challenge, though, trucking provides a promising path forward.
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