Drive down any highway in America and you'll see them: trucks. Lots of them. Like apple pie and baseball, trucking is a staple of the United States. Companies rely on them to deliver goods in a timely and efficient manner. But who's behind the wheel of these big-rigs? According to Bruce Martin, president of Layover Inc., an Akron, Pa.-based online recruiting firm for truckers, the definition of a trucker has been rapidly changing.
"Trucking struggles with the same thing the army struggles with," says Martin. "And that's perception. When people think of trucking they think of 'Smokey and the Bandit,' and that's just not true. Trucking has evolved just like the person driving the truck has evolved."
Anyone and everyone
These days the person driving the truck can be anyone from a doctor to someone retired from the military.
"I recently met a lawyer who was going to get his trucking license," says Martin. "It could be anyone - there's a wide range of people who want to be truckers. It's great for someone who likes driving and enjoys the freedom of the open road."
And it's not just for men either - more women are pursuing the profession. "I've heard that the percentage of women in the industry is under 10 percent right now, but I expect that to change very soon," says Martin.
With an aging population and high turnover, the need for truckers is currently high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor, "overall employment of truck drivers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012 due to the growth in the economy and in the amount of freight carried by truck."
"What's happening now is a lot of drivers are retiring or leaving the business, and that leaves a big empty space," says Dena Sanders, sales manager for TruckNet in Lebanon, Mo. "There are jobs all over the industry, but the driving job is the one that's most sought after."
There are a few steps to take before you can pursue a driving job. First, while some states allow drivers under the age of 18, most require them to be at least 21 years old. If you fit the age requirement in your state, then you must obtain a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) from there. To qualify for a CDL you must pass a written test on rules and regulations and then demonstrate your ability to operate a commercial truck safely. Next, you must prove you have a sufficiently clean driving record and no history of felonies involving the use of a motor vehicle.
These rules are not consistent across the board - some trucking operations may have a higher set of standards.
"A lot of companies we deal with require one to two years of on-the-road experience just to start," says Sanders. "But other companies hire people and provide the training. It just depends on the company. People should look online, in magazines or in newspapers to find a school or company that provides truck driver training."
On the job
While almost anyone can be a trucker if they set their mind to it, the challenges and working conditions are not always for everyone.
"If you're the type of person who wants to pull over after driving for two hours, then this job is not for you," says Martin.
For some people, however, hours spent on the open road is just what they always wanted.
Since retiring from the military in 1993, Tim Fleming has been an independent owner and operator of his own truck. Fleming, who lives in Rhododendron, Ore., says he loves to travel and see the country, and he gets personal satisfaction from the customers he deals with on a daily basis.
"I have a sense of accomplishment when they tell me they're happy to see me," Fleming says. "[They're happy because] I'm there early and their product isn't damaged."
As an independent trucker, Fleming's job differs from most truckers, as he gets to set his own schedule and routes.
"I get to make my own schedule because I found a niche in the industry," he says. "I do what I want, when I want. I can pick and choose where I want to go and how I want to do things."
For now, Fleming chooses to go out on the road for about two weeks and then go home for a week.
"I get about 12 vacation weeks a year," he says. "The longest I've been on the road for one stretch was eight months."
For those looking to get into the industry, Fleming suggests going to a large trucking firm to get a few years of experience.
"Go out there and pay your dues for a few years," he says. "Keep your ear to the ground and get yourself into a place you want to be in."