Is the lure of the open road calling you? Trying to figure out how you can see the USA in somebody else's Chevrolet? You might want to consider becoming a professional truck driver.
This is one career where there is more demand than supply, especially in California. According to the state's Employment Development Department, more than 45,000 job opportunities are available today for truck drivers. Pay ranges from minimum wage up to $27 an hour. Various kinds of benefit programs add value to the regular paychecks.
Truck driving careers are open to owner operators, solo drivers and team drivers. Owner operators are typically drivers who've been putting the pedal to the metal long enough to accumulate good experience and enough savings to buy or lease their own rigs on credit.
Team drivers stand the best chance of earning the most income for the simple reason their truck can cover more miles and carry more loads more often. While the typical truck driving team includes a husband and wife, it's also true a team that delivers the goods can consist of an experienced driver and a beginner. So men and women who want steady wages for steady work can have a future as team drivers, even if they're fresh out of truck driving school.
Although opportunities to pair up beginners with experienced drivers are usually informal arrangements now, the American Trucking Association is working on a new classification that will encourage the teaming up of an apprentice driver with an experienced commercial licensed driver for on-the-job training. Some trucking companies already have such programs on their own.
For beginners, the first step is to get some instruction and truck driving practice. Driver training can be obtained through public school districts and private driving schools. The latter give classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel practice driving rigs. They also make trucks available for a fee to students ready to take the Department of Motor Vehicles Class A truck driving test.
In California, truck drivers must have a Class A license to drive heavy trucks. In addition to a good driving record, they must be at least 18 to drive in state, and 21 or older to transport cargo out of state. They must also be able to pass medical exams and drug tests. Both public and private truck driving schools help their students meet the licensing requirements.
Rich Callahan, operations manager for Western Truck School in West Sacramento, says his program helps student drivers get entry-level jobs. "Most of the students get hired before they finish school. We have about five of the major over-the-road trucking companies come on our campuses to hire our students," Callahan explains.
The school graduates about 160 students a month after 16 weeks of classroom and driving instruction at their 12 locations around the state, including metro Sacramento and several in the Bay Area. They have a 98 percent placement rate. According to Callahan, "Entry-level drivers can earn about $35,000 a year plus benefits. It's become a professional career. In fact many trucking companies pay full reimbursement of student loans." Truck driving schools charge from $1800 to $5000 for the instruction.
Short Hauls First
The career path often begins with being hired to drive a delivery truck for furniture stores and appliance dealers, usually earning an hourly wage. After some experience, you can partner with another driver and cover any of the lower 48 states, getting paid by the mile.
Many long distance trucking companies want applicants with at least two years experience. Jeff Clark, owner of Landstar Inway, a major trucking firm, says some companies "require at least six months truck driving experience and at least one year over the road."
Most of Clark's drivers are experienced operators who own their rigs. "We're only looking for the cream of the crop guys." Tammy Sachs, owner of Vital Link Technology Services in Roseville, works with Clark's company to hire only team drivers, typically married couples.
"The service I provide is to find freight that needs to be delivered, and the drivers to deliver it," explains Sachs. "I've been in the trucking business since 1989 and I keep busy."
Another woman who's been working in the trucking industry a long time is Kat Salvato. She is an operations recruiter for Green Valley Transportation Inc in Tracy. The company hauls military freight in 48 states. Normally, drivers she hires must have at least two years experience. In hiring team drivers she says, "we would consider hiring a couple where the husband, for example, has lots of over the road experience and his wife is new out of truck driving school. It depends how she rated in school and things like her driving record and accident history, things like that."
Green Valley Transportation is looking for solo and team drivers. They offer the opportunity to earn as much as $2000 a week, with full benefits including a retirement plan. Their full-time positions guarantee long distance drivers being home every two weeks.
However, this job is not for beginners. Applicants need at least two years verifiable experience. The other half of a pair of team drivers may need only six months experience before you can see the USA while earning good pay.