Wednesday, November 25, 2009
With the economy in a slump and jobs scarce as hen's teeth you may be considering a career change. If trucking looks good to you, there are some things you need to know before you jump in.

First off, trucking is not for everyone. You have to be able to handle long hours (up to 11 hours at a time behind the wheel), some heavy lifting (you may be required to help load and unload your trailer, and put in load locks), physical effort (you must be able to climb in and out of a trailer that is about four feet off the ground, and sweep it out occasionally - all 53 ft of it), stress (late loads, crazy/stupid drivers, pressure from dispatchers, bad weather - sometimes all of these at once), and paperwork (logs, trip paperwork, map reading, etc.) You must be good at handling challenges without panicking, a cool head is essential in this business. Good people skills help, too.

Training is expensive and can take weeks to complete, so don't think you will be able to jump right in and start earning right away. You will need to go to school first. Don't go to a CDL Mill! I can't stress this enough - DON'T GO TO A CDL MILL! Check out your local Vo-Tech and community colleges. The course will be cheaper, the training will be better, and you may even be able to get a Pell grant to help pay for it. A community college or Vo-Tech course will cost you around $3,000 and take about 8 weeks to complete - a CDL Mill will cost about $6,000 and take about 3 weeks.

Check out trucking companies before you start. Even though the ads in the paper say they are hiring, many are not right now. In fact many companies are downsizing. In many cases those ads in the paper are from CDL Mills that want your money - not from the the trucking companies themselves. Make sure the companies you are interested in are actually hiring.

After your schooling you will have to go to a company with a training program. Companies such as Swift, Stevens Transport, J.B. Hunt, Werner, Crete, U.S. Express, and a few others have special programs in place to further train student drivers. You will not learn everything you need to know in school - you must get hands-on on-the-job-training, usually 6 months worth. Trucking is NOT unskilled labor - no matter how the powers that be classify it.

Before you choose a company go to The Trucker's Report and check out their Trucking Company DAC Reports and the Good/Bad Trucking Company forum.

Also Desiree's A Day in the Life of a Lady Trucker is a must read. Not to scare you away from trucking, but because you should be aware of the problems that do exist out there. What she chronicles in her story is real, I have heard first hand accounts of the awful things that can happen to student drivers in an uncaring system. I was very lucky in that I got a great trainer (he was such a great trainer I eventually married him, but that's another story), and there are other great trainers out there who really do care about teaching. But, as with all walks of life, there are predators and scum mixed in, too, and you need to be prepared. Odds are good you will get matched up to drive with someone who, at the very least, has poor hygiene or an annoying personality, if not the outright horrors depicted in Desiree's story.

Trucking can be a very lucrative, very rewarding career, but it it also very hard to get started, and there will be many obstacles in your way. Student drivers don't get paid much - less now than ever, and are often jerked around by uncaring companies and taken advantage of by power hungry dispatchers. Be ready to stand up for yourself, be prepared to put up with a lot of crap. Look at your first year like a sort of Boot Camp - it sucks, but things get easier from there, and you will emerge a stronger person for it.

Once you have a couple of years accident free experience under your belt that CDL can be as good as gold. Don't think you will be stuck driving for the same monster uber-comany that you start with. With experience behind the wheel you can eventually move on to a smaller company that is more likely to treat you better, pay better, and get you home more often. You may even decide to become an Owner-Operator and really be your own boss.

I'm not writing this to scare anyone away from becoming a truck driver, but right now the CDL Mills are being especially predatory trying to take advantage of so many people who are out of work. I hope anyone who is considering doing this for a living will do their research, make their choices carefully, and not jump in blindly.

If you would like more step-by-step info on how to get your CDL, check out my article on eHow: How to Become a Long Haul Trucker


mrjwhit~ said...

I have never thought about being a trucker, but your insights are very helpful for one who IS thinking of being a driver. Good stuff. Thanks

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I'm a 34 year old wife, truck driver, writer, and photographer with a love of adventure and travel. I am a Libertarian, and a total sci-fi geek. I studied archaeology at Auburn University.


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