A trucker’s life is altogether different from your regular 9-5 lifestyle with an office job and an apartment and all that. It is rather an acquired taste. Some people have a thirst for that kind of life, while others kind of grow into it as part of making a living. And you can indeed make a decent living from this career.
So much so that many middle-aged folks are returning to this career in recent years, according to a recent feature on Forbes. If you have a thirst for the open road, and have the requisite aptitude and skill set, being a truck driver could be a very fulfilling career choice indeed.
The Trucking Industry: An Introduction
Commercial freight transportation is a massive industry in the North American continent. Large 18-wheelers, or “semis,” carry everything from raw materials to finished goods and everything in between, across thousands of kilometers.
It is estimated that nearly 10 million Americans are directly employed in this industry, with at least 3 million of them as truck drivers. There are over 500,000 trucking companies, including large organizations and small owner-operated enterprises.
Together they own around 15 million trucks, which cover a combined distance of over 400 billion miles annually.
Career Prospects as a Truck Driver
Despite all those impressive numbers, the industry still has massive growth potential, at the very least over the next couple of decades. Nearly 70% of all goods transported in America depend on truck drivers. So there is no shortage of jobs in this industry.
In fact, estimates from the American Trucking Association suggest an annual shortfall of over a 100,000 drivers by 2026. With the economy bouncing back from the recession, and growing demand for goods, the market for skilled truck drivers is only expected to grow further in the coming years.
Salaries and Rewards of a Truck Driving Career
Before you even consider making truck driving career, you need to have an exact idea of what you can expect from this field. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for a truck driver in the US in 2016 was $41,000 or thereabouts. This is what you can expect when you are employed as a driver in a company.
The starting salary would, of course, be lower, as beginner drivers can expect to earn anything between $30,000 and $40,000 until they gain more experience. Seasoned veterans can command more, often close to the $55-60,000 mark.
Basic Requirements to Start a Career as a Truck Driver
Making truck driving career is not a very complicated task, as long you take a few critical steps along the way. Though you don't need a college degree to enter a trucking career, having a GED, or an equivalent high school diploma can be helpful.
Also, you need to be at least 21 years old and must be either a US citizen or legal resident. You need a special Commercial Driving License, or CDL to start working as a truck driver.
Having a criminal record, or serious traffic violations like DUI or rash driving can make you ineligible for a CDL in most states. So try to keep a clean record if you are considering making truck driving career.
Getting Enrolled in a Truck Driving School
For all details about getting a CDL in your state, check the State Commercial Driver’s Manual, available at your local DMV office. Finding a school is not too hard, as there are many independent as well as company-owned schools out there in the US.
They both have their benefits and demerits. If you don't mind working for a particular company once you graduate, a company owned school might be an excellent choice. They often hire students who have completed the first level of the course, CDL-A.
But if you explore your employment chances after getting your CDL, an unaffiliated or independent driving school is a recommended option.
Paying Driving School Fees
As with any course, you will have to pay the school tuition fees. Though they differ from state to state and individual schools, the average tuition fee for a CDL course can range typically between $5000 - $7000 in the US. If you don't have the cash on hand to afford this course, most schools offer alternate payment options.
There are even scholarships on offer, most commonly from trucking companies. Other options include loans, grants, and Veteran’s Education Benefit programs. Beware of any school that offers free courses, as CDL training involves considerable fuel and equipment costs.
Do not sign up unless you have an exact idea of the stipulations and conditions put forward by the school. This is especially the case if it is a school owned by a trucking company.
Getting Your First Truck Driving Job
With so many vacancies waiting to be filled every year, finding a job will not be hard once you clear the CDL license test. If you are enrolled in a company training program/school, they will probably offer to hire your even as you are a student. You will, of course, have to finish the CDL course successfully within a stipulated time to start work as a full-time driver.
If you completed the course from an independent school, all you need to do is find some trucking companies near you which are hiring. Send your resume to a bunch of these, and you should soon get interview calls.
Many reputed schools will also put you in touch with good companies through job placement programs. If you have the requisite finance, you can also start out on your own as an owner-operator.
Who Are Company Drivers
These are the truck drivers who are employed by trucking companies. As a company driver, your only headache is to deliver cargo to the destination ordered by your company, within the deadline. Payment is usually calculated based on your total mileage, while some companies also pay you by the hour.
In this job, you don't have to worry about fuel, maintenance, road tolls, and other expenses involved in trucking. These expenses are paid for by the company. But they also deduct taxes from your paycheck. And you will be responsible for necessary maintenance of your vehicle, its weight distribution, and other issues.
Advantages of Working as a Company Driver
This type of job entails fewer headaches and responsibilities. Since the business and equipment is owned by the company, they handle all the costs and major compliance requirements. This leads to reduced stress, which is not often the case if you are the owner.
And since companies also handle fleet upgrades, you will get to ride new vehicles without having to pay for them out of your pocket. You also get the advantage of stable employment, with health insurance and similar benefits.
Disadvantages of Working as a Company Driver
The biggest disadvantage is this kind of setup is pretty self-explanatory: you are an employee, so your freedom is limited. You cannot go where you feel like going. And you have to work for a single company, and cannot indulge in any freelancing.
And while the job may shield you from expenses, it also keeps you away from profits which you might have earned as an owner. If you like being in complete charge of your own business, being a company driver is not what you would like.
Who are Owner-Operators
In this scenario, you are not an employee, but the owner of your own business. And that business will involve driving, as well as handling all taxes, expenses, maintenance costs, and finding transportation gigs as well.
Since you own the truck, you have the freedom to do all these things on your own, or delegate some responsibility to bigger companies using a leasing agreement. Some trucking companies also offer their drivers the chance to become owner-operators by buying their trucks.
Advantages of Working as an Owner-Operator
Freedom to do as you like is the single main advantage of being an owner-operator. You can choose your routes, and say no to particular gigs if you don't feel like it. You also have the freedom to associate with different trucking companies.
If you don't like the work at one firm, you can take your truck elsewhere seeking other companies. Owner-operators also have the freedom to modify the trucks to their heart’s content, which is something companies do not allow their employees to do.
There is also a chance of increased payments since you can negotiate directly with the shippers. You don't have to pay the cut to any company. And you also have the chance to expand your business, by buying more trucks if you get consistent profits.
Disadvantages of Working as Owner-Operator
In stark contrast to company drivers, you don't have any protection against running expenses or losses. Just as you have a chance to earn more, you also have a chance to lose a pile of cash.
Handling multiple responsibilities, maintenance, compliance, and negotiations can take a heavy toll. You also have to maintain tax compliance and have your healthcare plan.
Company Drivers Vs. Owner Operators
It all boils down to individual preference and opportunity. Some people enjoy being their boss and relish the challenge of trying to build a profitable business. Others couldn't simply be bothered about it, and don't mind being told where to go and what to do.
Truck driving on its own is a very challenging profession. Whether one wants to be an owner-operator or company driver depends entirely on their preferences, and of course, availability of financing. Both are very rewarding career choices in their ways.
Making truck driving career is a very sensible choice, but not for everyone. The hours are long; the job is demanding and often dangerous. If you don't mind being on the road, away from home for days and weeks, this is the perfect job for you.
Career prospects are very bright, and ready employment opportunities are waiting for qualified candidates. With an expense of just a few thousand dollars, and some hard work and dedication, anybody can aspire to make truck driving a career choice.