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Make money, without a college degree, as a truck driver
CareerBuilder | April 13, 2020
Become a Truck Driver and Start Your Career on the Open Road
Truck drivers are logistics professionals who use tractor-trailers and other large vehicles to transport a variety of cargo. Distance traveled may vary based on the specifics of each job and assignment, from local deliveries to nationwide hauls. Not only do truck drivers move cargo — they must also ensure that all inventory makes it to the final destination on time and undamaged. In addition, many truck drivers hold a commercial driver's license (CDL), know how to make minor repairs on a rig, and fill out requisite paperwork.
If you're interested in beginning your career as a truck driver, here's a guide to help you find the position that's right for you.
Whether you’re interested in regional, commercial, or another kind of truck driving, it will be your responsibility to deliver cargo unharmed and in a timely manner using either a personal or a company-owned truck for transportation. Often, destinations are manufacturing plants, retail stores, or distribution centers; residential deliveries are typically handled by delivery drivers. Sometimes, truck drivers are required to transport loads overnight or for long hours.
Your responsibilities as a truck driver may include:
- Transporting raw materials or finished goods from points of origin to destinations.
- Performing preventative maintenance on your vehicle.
- Consulting qualified mechanics for problems outside your area of expertise.
- Completing deliveries on time or within schedules.
- Loading and unloading cargo using a forklift or pallet jack.
- Keeping a list of reimbursable expenses, including tolls and fuel.
- Logging miles driven during a particular assignment.
- Keeping a record of vehicle maintenance and state-mandated inspections.
- Earning and maintaining your commercial driver’s license (CDL).
- Using computerized systems to document the delivery of goods to a client.
- Completing delivery paperwork for your employer.
- Remaining safe on the road using defensive driving skills.
- Maneuvering trailers into docking bays for loading and unloading.
- Reporting defects, damage, accidents, or violations to the proper authority.
- Knowing and complying with federal and state law regarding vehicle weight.
- Using a map or GPS to plan the quickest and most effective route to the destination.
- Being respectful and patient with clients upon delivery of their goods.
The work environment of a truck driver is usually confined to the vehicle they are driving, although at times, they may have to work in an office, factory, or warehouse setting. There are no defined hours for a truck driver, but most spend 40 or more hours a week to ensure timely delivery.
Because most of the time on the job is inside the cab of a vehicle for long hours, it is unlike many other jobs on the market. In addition, a majority of the time is solitary, meaning that truck drivers need a strong resolve and dedication to keep mentally healthy.
During pickups and drop-offs, truck drivers need to have a decent level of physical fitness. If a forklift is unavailable and a pallet jack is necessary to move inventory, the driver will have to move up to thousands of pounds, sometimes on his or her own.
Maintaining a respectable level of safety is also important for truck drivers. This means that preventative maintenance is a must, as the mechanical aspects of the vehicle must remain in top condition. Some of these maintenance jobs are completed by the driver, such as tire inspections, oil changes, and other minor jobs. Other safety concerns include compliance to federal, state, and local laws and maintaining sobriety and alertness. If delivering hazardous materials, special care is a necessity. Some truck drivers may also face minor cuts or bruises when moving cargo or doing repairs.
In an office setting, a truck driver works hand-in-hand with employers, customers, and colleagues. Often, this includes friendly chatter along with business-related topics. They may also be required to collect the signatures to verify shipment delivery, collect payment, and file the proper paperwork, making knowledge of inventory spreadsheets mandatory.
What are a truck driver's required qualifications?
The educational requirements may vary based on a specific position, but most are relatively similar. Many drivers need to earn a commercial driver's license (CDL). This allows them to haul cargo of 26,001 pounds or more. The hauling of hazardous materials may also require an endorsement or special certification depending on the state. Truck drivers typically have a high school degree, and some take driving education classes. Some areas of study and qualification include:
- A high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate
- A state issued CDL to demonstrate driving aptitude, as well as other requirements like a medical examination or written exam
- Certification from a Professional Truck Driving Institute (PTDI)
- Attending workshops offered by the American Trucking Associations (ATA)
- Business Administration
- Automotive Repair
In addition to this education and certifications, truck drivers also receive on-the-job training to improve their driving skills and align their behavior with the policies, procedures, operations, and ethics of their employer. Many employers offer training on new equipment, and many new drivers are paired with an experienced individual.
Good eyesight and proper judgment are also two core qualities that many employees deem valuable.
When truck drivers begin their career, most take up an apprenticeship or driving classes to learn how to drive a larger vehicle. Although there is no formal education track, truck drivers often learn the trade for one to two years so they maintain a level of comfort when they're on their own. As they gain experience, they often get larger shipments, move hazardous materials, and drive longer distances in shorter periods of time.
As a truck driver gains more knowledge, job expectations grow. The quicker, more reliable, and more proficient the driver is, the higher the pay, as well as better hours. Recent data indicates that 29 percent of truck drivers have between 6 and 10 years of experience. Twenty-three percent have 11 to 15 years, 12 percent have 3 to 5 years, and 13 percent have 16 to 20 years on the job. With 21 years or more behind the wheel, the most experienced truck drivers comprise 16 percent of the workforce, while those up to 2 years make up 8 percent.
These numbers indicate that although experience is a valuable asset in the industry, newcomers shouldn't feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed about potential job prospects.
Extra attributes and assets paired with driving skills will improve job performance and employment opportunities. Here are just a few of the skills that employers look for when searching for a truck driver:
- Mechanical - knowledge of engines, transmissions, and other components
- Customer service - communicating with customers about deliveries and shipments with respect and professionalism
- Responsible - maintaining a sense of responsibility for the goods in their possession, as well as explaining any problems
- Problem solving - finding new routes in case of inclement weather or an accident, as well as figuring out how to expedite the loading and unloading process
- Stress management - learning how to keep calm when deadlines grow near, as well as managing solitude and stress while on the road.
- Physical fitness - being able to unload and load freight without getting fatigued, as well as maintaining alertness during lengthy trips
- Working independently - being able to stay on task, complete jobs, and do all of their duties and responsibilities without the watchful eye of a superior is an attractive quality
- Clean driving record - an impeccable personal and professional driving record shows attention to detail, care, and responsibility
How much do truck drivers make?
Truck driver salaries vary greatly with respect to the employer and the type of work. On average, an entry-level truck driver earns about $19.00 per hour, or roughly $60,500 annually. Once a driver gains experience, pay can rise immensely.
Different markets also commandeer different wages. For example, the highest paying geographic locations are Chicago, Denver, Dallas, and Charlotte. In each of those cities, truck drivers make an average of at least $64,500 a year.
Search CareerBuilder's Salary Tool for average pay on any job title and location,
What is a truck driver's job outlook?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the truck driving field is expected to grow by 11 percent over the next 10 years. The recent decline in gasoline prices may also cause the demand for truck drivers to rise rapidly. Cheaper ways to ship also help keep the demand high.
Truck drivers that excel at their job may have few promotion options. However, most of their good work is rewarded with better hours, improved trucking routes, more flexibility, a nicer truck, or more vacation time. Some truckers do earn promotions into jobs such as warehouse or logistics managers.
If you love working with people, driving on the open road, and earning great pay, becoming a truck driver is a viable option. To make matters even better, it requires less education than other positions, yet the payoff is above average and the career is rewarding. Start your search for truck driver job today.
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Advice article about passing the CDL test:
Get ahead: Earn your commercial drivers license