Do you ever fantasize about quitting your job and finding a career on the open road, with just your thoughts and the radio to keep you company? If so, you’re not alone—and it may not be as far-fetched a career plan as you might think.
Much of the U.S. economy depends on goods finding their way to warehouses and stores all over the country—and in many cases, those goods are transported by long-haul tractor-trailer truck drivers. Fast delivery is becoming a major selling point for online retailers like Amazon and big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target, which makes professional truckers an important part of satisfying customer expectations.
Truck drivers are a crucial part of an ever-expanding supply chain: by 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers will grow by as much as 11%.
There are hurdles to a career in trucking—as tempting as it sounds, you can’t just show up, standard driver’s license in hand, and expect to drive a big rig to Ohio. All states require a specific Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to operate heavy trucks and tractor-trailers. Additionally, most trucking companies require a high school degree and completion of a professional truck-driving training program.
There are also personal considerations. Are you willing to be away from home for days or weeks at a time? Do you have the time-management skills to meet rigorous delivery schedules in all weather, on holidays, or on your birthday? Being a truck driver requires a strong personal commitment as well as a professional one.
Hitting the Road
Let’s say you’ve met all these requirements, made the necessary choices, and received the right training and recommendations. You’re ready to pack up your faithful dog and your toothbrush, and seek a trucking job. What’s the best way to do that?
You may want to start by researching which trucking companies meet your goals and your comfort level. Regional trucking companies may be able to offer you jobs closer to home. National trucking companies tend to have the broadest reach and the most access to available trucking jobs.
You should also consider whether the company will hire a rookie driver right out of the gate—many companies want their new drivers to have 3 months to a year of driving time before they’ll consider hiring. This may sound discouraging to start (how do I get experience if no one will hire me without experience?), but it’s common in most career paths to start at the bottom by creating/locating opportunities and working your way up.
The Money Question
Perhaps the most important part of any job search is understanding what your salary will be—and can be. Like other fields, trucking offers its lowest salaries to drivers just starting out, especially if you don’t have the driving experience yet. However, you should know that while many industries have a wide gap between starting employees and long-time veterans, truck drivers have a pretty even field once you’re in it.
The average starting pay for a truck driver is $13.81/hour, compared to an average of $18.37/hour (approximately $38,200/year) for all drivers. This kind of parity is often a reason people choose to get started in the trucking industry—your pay is not significantly less than more experienced colleagues’.
If you’re seeking a career that can be challenging and fulfilling while paying the bills and letting you travel, trucking could just be the right choice for you. And if you have the ability to find Zen even in the most obnoxious traffic jams, all the better!