Tractor trailers, 18-wheelers, semi trucks – whatever you call them, most drivers have seen the large commercial vehicles on major roadways. But according to a 2017 report from the American Trucking Association, the number of truck drivers working in America is very low and continues to drop.
Qualified drivers are in high demand, particularly younger drivers that can replace retirees, and will continue to be in the future as online retailers like Amazon keep growing. The industry is in need of new drivers, and potential employees will need to know what exactly to expect of the job.
A commercial truck driver is a person who uses a large truck to transport cargo. All truck drivers have this same mission, but the area they travel, services they provide and employment they take on may differ. Some truck drivers are up for driving across the country, while others stay within the confines of their state, particularly if they are under 21 years of age. In addition, some may choose to own their trucks, leasing it out to other companies or working as an independent contractor (where they essentially run their own business).
Besides driving, a truck driver may have to perform sales or customer service duties, depending on the type of job they have; if they are self-employed, they will have to know how to find and keep customers themselves. Often, they are also responsible for any maintenance needed for their truck. Then, of course, they will have to learn the laws of the road and keep up with any hazards or traffic jams on their route. Being a truck driver may sound as simple as sitting and driving all day, but all of these responsibilities are frequently part of the job description.
What qualities should a driver possess?
In order to become a commercial truck driver, a worker must have at least a high school diploma (or an equivalent certificate) and a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL. In order to get a CDL, the driver must be at least 21 years old (or 18 if they are driving only within their state), must pass a vision test, knowledge test and medical examination, must provide required identification and must pass a road skills examination and pre-trip inspection.
Typically, a driver will attend truck driving school to allow them to pass these tests, which can cost anywhere from $3,000 – $7,000 and last up to 12 weeks, depending on which license the driver wants to receive. There are also some other basic requirements that would be standard for any job, such as a drug or alcohol test and a physical.
But one of the main reasons the number of drivers in America is so low is that many do not meet other eligibility requirements; some companies want drivers with a certain experience level or driving history record. The drivers may need to obtain some other sort of certification, such as endorsements that would allow them to carry hazardous materials or to drive other types of vehicles. However, compared to many other trade jobs, truck driving is known for being quick and simple to begin. Due to the national shortage, drivers who can meet the preconditions for the industry can have a fairly lucrative career.
What are some benefits of being a truck driver?
While the shortage of truck drivers is unfortunate for the industry, it can be beneficial to anyone looking to become a driver. Less drivers mean better job security and more job prospects for those who are interested in the business. If a truck driver is dependable and safe, they may be able to earn a relatively high salary due to the industry shortage. Getting a job with a specific company can often mean standard benefits like health insurance, life insurance and retirement plans. Companies may also give their drivers bonuses based on the loads they carry or distance they travel.
Certain personality types may find the job itself intriguing. Truck drivers often spend lengthy periods of time on their own, so people who enjoy quiet environments and working individually may prefer driving to working in an office or in another trade job, such as construction. On the other hand, they would also need to be able to handle customer service responsibilities, especially if they are working independently of a company and have to deal with customers on a regular basis. Obviously, they must also be a good driver, which may require patience and a sense of courage to brave the temperamental traffic.
Anyone who dislikes dealing with customers or other drivers on the road would consider the presence of those responsibilities as disadvantages to the job.
What are the downsides of being a truck driver?
Many people think that one of the biggest drawbacks to being a truck driver is the amount of time spent alone on the road. Some drivers may be extroverted and feel that they need to be around people, so the long periods of time by themselves would be annoying at best. In addition, these long stints of driving may not follow a “normal” schedule – drivers may have to drive through the night and sleep during the day, or have an erratic schedule that changes. On top of that, the long hours spent sedentary and difficulty can cause health problems if the driver doesn’t put forth significant effort to eat healthy and get proper excercise.
The shortage of truck drivers means that the ones who choose to pursue that profession can earn a somewhat high salary, even as a beginner. However, one aspect that deters potential drivers is the cost of starting. Compared to a full college tuition, truck driving school isn’t too expensive, but the tuition may still be considered steep, particularly for someone who has not yet started a career and earned a salary. Although some companies may pay for driving school, and even if they don’t, the money will be made back eventually.
How do you get started as a truck driver?
The number one, potentially most obvious step to becoming a truck driver is to obtain a standard driver’s license. After that, it’s on to truck driving school, which is where driver’s will get their CDL. As stated before, the process of getting a CDL can last up to 12 weeks, although the standard school will take only seven weeks of full-time, 40-hours-per-week work. If the driver decides that they’d rather work part-time instead of full-time or that they would like to gain additional endorsements, they may have to spend more time in school. Truck driving school consists of both class time and driving time, allowing the driver to gain hands-on experience before getting their license.
Once a student finishes with truck driving school, they can begin looking for jobs. Before starting their search, they need to consider how much they’d like to be paid, where they’d like to be based and what kind of benefits a potential company offers.
Getting a job is much the same in the trucking industry as anywhere else; seekers can use job sites and connections to find openings that fit their criteria. They may need to start with an entry-level job and work their way up with time and experience. As long as they are open to options, the job search may not take very long at all.
What does a typical day look like for a truck driver?
Of course, there is no singular “standard day” for a truck driver; the company they work for, amount of time that they work, distance they can travel and frequency of deliveries can all play a part in what their schedule for any day looks like. However, there are certain rules that truck drivers must abide by when driving. Because many drivers get paid by the time spent driving or distance covered, it can be tempting to continue to drive for extended periods of time, even forgoing rest to earn more.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has certain rules in place to ensure that truck drivers get the right amount of rest to stay safe. For property-carrying drivers, this means that they cannot drive more than 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours spent off-duty. In addition, CDL drivers cannot drive more than 60 or 70 hours in a seven or eight-consecutive-day period, and must take at least 34 hours off-duty in between seven/eight day periods.
Despite the long hours away from home, truck drivers – or anyone looking to enter into the industry – can enjoy job security and a fairly lucrative career. Compared to many other trade jobs, truck driving is an inexpensive and quick career path to jump into.
The best way to begin the process of obtaining a truck driving job is to look at accessible driving schools that would provide CDL certification. Due to the shortage of employees, many companies are looking to hire, and perspective drivers may be able to get an offer quickly after finishing driving school. The truck driving industry is expected to have more availability in the coming years, adding to the potential benefits for future and current drivers.