A career as a truck driver offers some unique perks (as well as its fair share of unique challenges) that draw people into the field. Hauling a big rig across the country on the open road is what everyone thinks of when they imagine a career as a truck driver. If you are serious about entering the trucking industry, you can certainly become a driver, but there are other career paths open to you as well. Even as a driver, you have a range of options when choosing a company to drive for. Here are some paths to consider when choosing the right career in trucking.
The Obvious Career Choice: Driver
Granted, driving may not be something that you envision yourself doing long-term. However, getting some mileage under your belt provides you with invaluable experience should you ever work elsewhere in the industry. Think about it: as an owner/operator, you will be able to better communicate and problem solve with your drivers if you already know what it’s like to be in their shoes. The same goes for any number of trucking industry experts.
Every driver needs a CDL license, but figuring out how to pay for your license and training is a little more complicated. You can get a company to sponsor your training, but make sure you really want this job. Many companies have you sign a contract stating that training is free if and only if you drive for them for a certain amount of time or over a certain amount of miles. If you get cold feet after training, you’ll end up having to pay for the schooling you’re now not going to use. Likewise, finding the right company to work for requires a bit of research and some deep introspection. Why do you want to be a driver? If you’re hoping to see the country, make sure you look for a job in which you’ll be doing interstate travel. If you love being on the road but you need to be home often, a local company might be a better choice.
Owner-operators do just what the name implies: they own and operate their own trucking business. However, many also have contracts with larger freight companies.
Owner-operators make a significant investment in the trucking industry when they buy their first trucks, and because the investment is indeed so large, owner-operators know one thing for certain: they are serious about trucking. They know trucking. They have been in the industry for years and have no intention of leaving. They enjoy it, even when the going gets tough; and the going will get tough for an owner-operator. Think meeting deadlines as a driver is stressful? Managing the entire trucking business takes that stress level up a notch. But if you like being in charge, know how to stay organized and have good business sense, being an owner-operator is almost like an adventure.
As an owner-operator, you’re likely to not spend much time on the road. You’ll be more likely to have an office than a cab. In that regard, pursuing a career as an owner-operator makes sense if you have a growing family and need to be close to home.
Becoming a CDL instructor is another wise choice for a family-oriented driver who is ready for a change of pace. You can put all of your experience to good use and train up a new group of CDL hopefuls. If you’re patient, have an eye for detail and really know how to maintain and drive a big rig, you may be cut out to be a CDL instructor. You’ll be responsible for teaching your apprentices how to stay safe on the road in all kinds of situations.
You should already have an idea of what the job entails if you attended a CDL training school to get your license, but the fact of the matter is that you can become a CDL trainer without having any driving experience or education. When you’re sure that becoming a CDL instructor is the career path for you, it’s beneficial for you to study for a professional certification, which is provided by the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CTVA). Technically such a certification is not strictly necessary to become a CDL instructor, but potential employers may like to see that you’ve dedicated time and energy into completing and passing the courses and tests.
Other Administrative and Supportive Roles
There are other auxiliary careers in the trucking industry, such as working in administration, management, accounts, financing, etc. There are also many opportunities to work as a diesel technician, to operate a truck-towing business or to even sell truck replacement parts. You might even open up a specialized diesel fueling station with room for trucks to easily maneuver and for drivers to relax and grab a bite to eat. And of course there are all kinds of supplies and commodities that truckers find useful, should you have a penchant for inventions.
In short, testing the waters as a driver is an excellent way to see if the more “hands-on” aspects of the trucking industry are right for you, but there are many ways to make a living in the industry while staying in one place.