This section of TruckingJobFinder highlights the most common types of truck driving job opportunities. One great aspect of being a trucker is that you can pursue a variety of career tracks, including:
Do you want to work locally? Is it important for you work for a large company, with assured vacation time and other benefits? What about driving as a team with your spouse? These are all possibilities as you’ll see below and on the following pages.
Company drivers work directly for a firm. They are usually on payroll, and they receive a W2 form at the end of the year instead of a 1099. Depending on the company, drivers can get a range of benefits like safety bonuses, paid training, health insurance, vacation time, and advancement opportunities. See the pay and benefits page for more information.
If you stay with the same company for several years and you keep a safe driving record, you may have the opportunity to pick routes that suit your interests. You might want to run the same route at night all the time, or you might prefer to roam the country. The longer you stay with the company and the better your record is, the better your options will be.
However, not all companies are the same. Some organizations offer better benefits than others and some have a generally better work environment. Your first company driving job may not be the one you want to keep for the rest of your life, but it will give you an opportunity to learn and prove that you’re a safe driver.
Some disadvantages of working directly for a company are dealing with big-company rules and regulations and possibly an unpleasant work environment. However, many of the rules and regulations are imposed by the federal government and you can’t get away from them no matter who you work for. Any job, whether trucking or school teaching, involves a certain amount of politics and dealing with people. It’s just a matter of which brand of politics you can tolerate best.
Owner-operators own their own truck, and they contract with freight companies to carry cargo from place to place. Every company negotiates their own deals for owner-operators, but in general, owner-operators can expect to earn more per mile than company drivers. As an owner-operator, you may feel that you have more control over your own destiny than a company driver. Since you don’t actually work for the company, there are fewer issues of company politics or worrying about advancement opportunities. Owner-operator trucks also tend not to have speed regulators that prevent drivers from exceeding 65 mph, and some people enjoy the ability to drive faster.
Some disadvantages of being an owner-operator are that you have to handle all the costs not only of purchasing your truck, but of maintaining it. Some companies will offer discounted repair rates to their contractors or discounts on gas and free carwashes, but if the truck breaks down, it is your responsibility to fix it and you don’t get paid for downtime. Owner-operators usually don’t qualify for vacation time, health insurance, dental or retirement plans. Owner-operators are 1099 employees, which means they are responsible for setting aside all their tax money, which can amount to 30 percent of income. Owner-operators also have to secure their own contracts, and it can be difficult to find work for next week when you’re out driving this week.
Driving your own truck as an owner-operator can be lucrative and liberating if you are organized and good at planning ahead. It’s a good career choice for people who budget carefully and set aside money for taxes, insurance, and retirement. It also may be a decent fit for people who dislike company politics – but even if you’re a contractor instead of a company man, you still have to keep the company happy. Customer service and reliability are even more important as a contractor, as contract employees are easier to get rid of than full-time employees.
Solo truck drivers pick up and deliver loads. A driver might carry a whole truckload or less than a full load. If carrying a whole truckload, you may just deliver your entire trailer to another facility. If less-than-truckload, you will probably have goods for multiple destinations in your truck, so you might have to unload a portion of your cargo at several different stops.
A large part of the truck driver job involves good record keeping. You have to maintain a log of your miles, stops, resting periods, breaks, and the time you spend doing non-driving work. These logs aren’t just for pay purposes; it is a federal safety requirement. In addition to your own miles, you also have to keep adequate records of all your cargo.
Federal trucking regulations mandate how long a driver may work and how much resting time he has to have between shifts. If you are a long-haul solo driver, you will probably sleep in a berth behind the cab during your off hours. Some truck berths have so many amenities it can feel like home, with a little refrigerator, table, TV, and your own laptop, your down time can feel almost homey.
Local drivers might be home every night and able to sleep in their own beds and spend more time with family.
Solo driving jobs are a good fit for people who don’t mind working alone and for those who either don’t want to have much contact with friends and family or are really good at keeping in touch by phone and email.
Team drivers work in pairs to move freight faster. One driver can be behind the wheel while the other sleeps in the berth behind the cab. In this way, there is always one well-rested driver so the freight doesn’t have to stop moving for 10 hours to meet federal safety requirements.
In many companies, team drivers get priority over solo drivers for rush loads. They may get better pay and more miles because of that priority. Driving as part of a team can also offset the loneliness of long-haul driving. However, it may be hard to imagine a single person with whom you would not mind spending 24 hours a day for weeks at a time. Even the closest of friends could become extremely annoying in such close quarters for such an extended time.
If you don’t have your CDL yet, but you want to start driving a truck, one way to do it is to apply for a truck driver apprentice job. Companies structure their apprentice programs differently, but in general, you would start out loading and unloading trucks for about a month. During that time, you would get your CDL learner’s permit and be available to work whenever the company needs you. After 30 days, you would be able to start a classroom training program about truck driving. At the same time, you could start driving with a fully licensed person in the cab to supervise. You might start working long driving shifts and your driving shift may be right before or after a classroom training session.
The advantage to working as a truck driver apprentice is that the company provides all your training to get your CDL, including special CDL license endorsements. There is also a good chance that you will have a full-time job as soon as you finish your training, so you don’t have to worry about job searching and spending a long time out of work after you get your CDL. The down side is that you often have to work undesirable shifts, you don’t get paid for classroom training time, and you may have to attend classroom sessions right before or after driving a long shift. Driver apprentices may have to do more loading and unloading than more experienced drivers. Depending on the program, you might have to agree to stay with the company for a year. The program might pay you training wages for the entire time you are an apprentice, or they might graduate you into a higher pay grade once you have your full license.
To qualify as a truck driver apprentice, you must be eligible for a CDL, meaning you have to be drug free, have a clean criminal and driving record, and be able to pass a background check for the hazardous materials endorsements. Since apprentices often do more loading and unloading than an experienced driver would, it’s important that you be able to move heavy objects and control a dolly going up and down a ramp. Squatting, kneeling, sitting, standing, and reaching over your head are also important abilities for this job.
If you think you might be interested in a driver apprentice job, make sure you understand how long you will be required to stay with the company and exactly what you will be paid, and also how much you would make if you paid for your own training and then applied for a job as a fully licensed driver. Also, try to find out who the teachers are. If you have access to very experienced drivers who have been with the company for a long time, their expertise can help you navigate a successful long-term career with the company.
Local truck drivers generally operate around their home city. They might deliver appliances from a retail store to several homes throughout the day. Local drivers are usually home every night, and they might work with a crew of several other people who help load and unload the truck.
Local drivers get all the benefits of a regular home life and predictable hours, but they don’t get to see the country coast to coast like a long-haul trucker. Pay for local drivers may be less than for an experienced long-haul driver with a good record.