Trucking jobs are highly in demand right now. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for delivery truck drivers and workers is up at 5%, higher than average compared to other occupations, followed by heavy and tractor-trailer drivers at 2%. Pay is also quite lucrative, with truck drivers earning anywhere from $15 to $22 an hour. But despite this, drivers remain in short supply, with companies struggling to hire qualified drivers, especially for inter-state and international runs.
If you're thinking about becoming a truck driver, you've probably been enticed by the thought of a high-paying career with long-term job security. You may have also seen online videos showcasing the unique, semi-nomadic lifestyles of truckers worldwide.
However, being a professional truck driver is a lot more complicated as it also has its own share of challenges in return. Here are several important factors you must consider before starting a trucking career:
You will need the right license.
The first step to entering the trucking business is getting a commercial driver’s license. More commonly known as the CDL, this is the commercial driver’s license issued by the United States government to legally operate large, heavy, or placarded hazardous vehicles in commercial applications. The license is broken down into three classes as well as endorsements for specific applications such as air brakes, tankers, or hazardous materials. Driving a truck with a double trailer, for example, requires a Class A CDL with endorsements for double-triple trailers and air brakes.
Each type of CDL and endorsement requires passing a writing and a medical exam as well as a practical driving test that includes driving your own vehicle for that specific class. Federal law also requires that you must be at least 21 years old to drive commercially interstate, although there are states that issue a CDL strictly for interstate driving for those who are 18 or older. The entire process takes no less than 14 days, but once you’ve filed the necessary documentation and passed all your tests, you’ll be a proud owner of a CDL!
It will cost you–a lot.
Starting a trucking career isn’t cheap. A common reason why truck drivers and operators go out of business is because of inadequate cash flow. So aside from skills and determination, be prepared to invest a lot of money upfront if you want to enter the trucking industry, including payment for your license, insurance, and permits, with owner-operators spending much more on fees and taxes. Aside from these initial costs, you’ll also have to deal with regular expenses such as fuel, food, and maintenance. If you own the truck, any repairs and replacement parts for your rig will come out of your pocket as well.
In most cases, the first six to 12 months will be difficult financially as you’ll be trying to earn the money you’ve invested in initially, so be sure to plan accordingly. For owner-operators, you can also consider hiring the services of an accounting firm specializing in the trucking business to help you create a profit plan. Tracking your business and personal expenses on the road, as well as knowing how much you’ll need to make monthly to break even and make a profit, is crucial to your long-term success in the industry.
You need to deal with different types of people.
One common misconception about trucking is that it’s an isolated job where you’ll spend most of your time alone in your thoughts across the interstate. However, being a successful trucker involves good communication skills and establishing rapport with people in your industry. Having a good working relationship with your dispatcher, for example, will make it easier to deliver your cargo as well as potentially gain access to better schedules and other opportunities. You also need to learn how to communicate effectively with mechanics and maintenance workers, so any problems and concerns with your vehicle are dealt with quickly and effectively.
Trucking is a physically exhausting job.
Drivers are typically paid by the mile, so expect 40 hours of driving per week or more in order to turn a profit. And since deliveries are on a tight schedule, it often takes hours before you can make your first rest stop. Depending on the company you’ll work for, you could be responsible for loading and unloading your truck as well. These could lead to back problems and other health issues if you are not in good shape. Schedules are often erratic and can change at the last minute, so lack of sleep and fatigue is also a common problem among drivers.
If you’re serious about entering the trucking business, keeping yourself healthy should be a priority. This includes adjusting your schedule so that you’ll have enough rest as well as incorporating stretches and other exercises in your daily regimen.
Trucking can negatively affect your relationships.
In addition to physical stress, being a truck driver can also put a strain on relationships. The long hours spent on the road can be difficult for married drivers in particular, as their spouses take the bulk of managing the household, taking care of the kids, paying the bills, doing the chores, and other tasks. There is also the reduced emotional and moral support, which can prove difficult to restore if not addressed early on.
Thankfully, connecting with friends and loved ones on the road is a lot easier now because of the latest technology. FaceTime, Messenger, and other smartphone messaging apps have made video calls easy and affordable, provided there’s an Internet connection. Despite improved connectivity, the stresses of being away from your family can still prove challenging. So if trucking will put a significant toll on the people you care about, it may be better to consider another career instead.
These are just a handful of the many realities truck drivers face on a regular basis on the road, but if you have the patience, perseverance, and willingness to learn about the trade, the financial and professional rewards can make up for it in the long run. Don’t hesitate to do more research about the industry either. The more knowledge you have about how to make it as a truck driver, the less difficult it is for you to adapt to the challenges you’ll encounter once you actually take the wheel.