Life as a long-haul trucker can be tough on a marriage. The long absences from home can make for a rugged road even in the best of relationships.
The solution? Take your spouse along – as a driving partner. That’s exactly what a growing number of older couples are doing, as they pursue second careers as long-haul truckers.
Not only is the industry welcoming those who are hitched, it is catering to them. New trucks are often outfitted with oversize beds, headed seats, DVD players, TVs, a bathroom and a satellite dish. Truck stops are changing as well, with beauty salons at some locations.
"Couples can join a truck-load carrier as a team and see the country and be compensated for it," declares Joe Kent, vice president of the California Trucking Association. He says it’s more and more common for retired or semi-retired folks to choose trucking instead of touring in a motor home.
Other sources back him up. According to the Wall Street Journal Online, the addition of older couples in the field is one of the reasons the number of truck drivers 55 or older has jumped 19 percent since the year 2000.
One company is even working with the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) to find potential drivers. To further the effort, the American Trucking Association is launching a "See America" billboard and TV ad campaign.
Another factor attracting older drivers – they face no additional requirements because of their age. All drivers must pass a federally required physical exam, but there is no mandatory retirement age. In fact, companies are often eager to hire older drivers, in part because drivers 55 to 69 have the lowest fatality rates for adults.
Driver Shortage Accelerating
Of course, the demand is greater than what older drivers can fill. A huge Internet job site recently reported 700,000 jobs available in the nation’s transportation industry. Other sources put the trucking industry shortage at 20,000 drivers today and, if recruitment efforts are not more successful, another 90,000 drivers could be needed by 2014.
The demand is so strong, even the inexperienced can climb into the cab. First-time drivers are joining national carriers that don’t require a training period. New hires are paired with experienced drivers so they can learn the ropes.
Knight Transport in Tulare is hiring truckers who are ready to sign on for a long-haul career.
"We offer a great sliding pay schedule, health benefits and flexible schedules," reports Miriam Abrajan. "We are open to work with the individual and his or her schedule."
Candidates must be at least 23 years old, with no felonies or DUIs, four months OTR experience in the past four years or one year OTR driving in the last five years. Owner-operators must be at least 24 years old. Good communication and customer service skills are key.
Knight’s territory covers 11 western states that include challenging mountain roads through the Rockies and the Sierras, which demand chaining up during snow season. That is one of the reasons the company does not hire recent driving school graduates.
"There are various options to choose and 2500 driving miles a week are required," explains Abrajan. "Our truckers can have five days on and two days off. Everyone has family and we want them to feel satisfied in their work environment.
"Our goal is to bring someone on board and keep them. So, it’s all up to the employee how much they want to earn." The company website (KnightTransport.com) is currently advertising a $500 sign-on bonus.
If the thought of hitting the road gets you into high gear, then a truck-driving school is one place to get started. Students must be at least 18 years old (21 for interstate operation), have an acceptable driving record, and be able to pass a drug test, a Department of Transportation physical and a written test.
The four-week course covers basics like vehicle inspection, brake adjustment, use of mirrors, backing, coupling and uncoupling, and shifting. The cost of the program is based on the needs of the individual student.
When a new trucker is hired, the employer often has a one-month training program where the new hire drives with a trainer in different terrains and road conditions.
Short Roster for the Long Haul
The job market is healthier for an OTR (over the road) trucker than the local market. "There is a definite shortage of long-haul truckers," reports Roger Ury with the American Truck School in San Pablo. "That is mainly because of the lifestyle."
Long-haul truckers are paid by the mile. "Every trucking company is different, but the average falls between 32 and 38 cents a mile," Ury says. "This figure is based on tenure and obviously will increase as years with the company increase." So a rookie averaging only 2500 miles a week would gross over $40,000 a year.
On-site recruiting is available at the school for those interested in the long-haul sector. However, the "good old boy network" has not changed, Ury admits, so it also helps to have a relative or friend in the industry to grease the hiring possibilities.
But that is certainly not a requirement. In truth, "anyone who has experience can find a job if they pass the physical test," according to Kent. And that isn’t about to change anytime soon.