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QUESTION: Hi Jim, here's the deal. I live in Chicago. I graduated from college about two years ago, and I've been doing restaurant and retail jobs while looking for a "real" job that pays decently.

It hasn't worked out very well.

I'm thinking about relocating to Florida and finding a job in trucking. I've looked at some websites, but I'm not sure what to make of them. Maybe you can help out, because I have no idea what being a trucker is like. Can you please give me some general information?

- Will companies pay for relocation, or at least help offset the costs?

- OTR or local trucking, which pays better on average? What are average salaries like?

- I'd prefer being home at night and having a regular schedule. Is this possible in the trucking industry?

- Do truckers work weekends and holidays? Is there overtime pay?

- Do truckers have to load and unload their own cargo?

- Beyond a CDL, is there other licensing necessary to work? Will my company help me get/pay for these licenses?

- Do I have to invest any money to become a trucker?

- Do trucking companies drug test? I don't use drugs, but I take two prescription meds for a chronic GI condition, and that might be a problem with drug testing.


Thanks Jim, sorry about all the questions but I'm really not knowledgeable about this line of work. I appreciate your time.

Rob

ANSWER: Rob, first question; what is your degree?
Good news is there is a shortage of safe qualified truck drivers.
It can be a challenging job but probably no worse than restaurant work and definitely pays better than retail.  Most companies want at least two years of safe driving experience and of course pass the physical, drug screening and criminal background.   Best way to get started is with a reputable driving school who will probably have placement assistance.  Most will not pay relocation costs. There is a wide range of salaries based on the desirability of the job. It's a 24/7/365 business so flexibility is key.  Jobs where the drive has to hustle or load and unload generally pay better than driving only and long haul OTR generally pays better but has you on the road for weeks at a time.  Some who advertise home every day are either night time or early morning shifts driving and have you home in the afternoon.  Some work weekends and have days off in middle of week.  The short haul home every day generally pays less.
Having said that due to the shortage of drivers it's common to work 60 hour weeks and most pay is activity based meaning miles driven or deliveries made, so there is an opportunity to make a good living but there is no concept as overtime. Your minimum investment to become a trucker will be in training and getting your CDL.   If you want to invest more and have more control you can buy a truck and become an owner-operator, but then you are running your own 1 truck small business with everything that comes with that.
And back to my original question, do you have a business degree?  Perhaps becoming a dispatcher or other "inside" job would provide a good long term opportunity.  In Florida the opportunities are statewide in all the major cities and ports.  Hope this helps.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Jim, thanks so much for the replies. Here's more info:

Rob, first question; what is your degree?

< It's a B.A. in English with a Fiction Writing specialization. Probably not much help in trucking....or in most other fields. I figured trucking would be an easier, low-stress job (no sitting in the office with the boss breathing down my neck), allowing me to keep up my writing in the evenings and weekends. Maybe I'm wrong about the trucking industry?

Most companies want at least two years of safe driving experience and of course pass the physical, drug screening and criminal background.

< I'm wondering how to get two years of driving experience before I have my CDL? If I can't drive without experience, how can I get experience? This is the same roadblock I'm running into everywhere else...they want experience, but nobody will GIVE me a job so I can GET experience!

Physical, drug screens, background check, no problems there. I've never run afoul of the law. Never even got a parking ticket, actually. >


Best way to get started is with a reputable driving school who will probably have placement assistance.  Most will not pay relocation costs.

< I see some companies offering to pay for CDL training. But I think they require trainees to sign a year-long contract, or something like that. Is this the usual arrangement? Can you give me some idea about what CDL training usually costs? >



There is a wide range of salaries based on the desirability of the job. It's a 24/7/365 business so flexibility is key.  Jobs where the drive has to hustle or load and unload generally pay better than driving only and long haul OTR generally pays better but has you on the road for weeks at a time.  Some who advertise home every day are either night time or early morning shifts driving and have you home in the afternoon.  Some work weekends and have days off in middle of week.  The short haul home every day generally pays less.


< Ok, this is all great info. So my deal is this: I'm married and have a 2 year old. That's why I'm interested in the "home each night" arrangement. My spouse earns a pretty good salary, so I'm not concerned with being the sole earner. So let's say I can deal with $45,000 - $50,000 at least to start. Does that sound about right for local driving?

Thing is, I really don't want to leave my family home alone for 2-3 weeks at a time...and to be honest, I'm not sure I can handle living in a semi truck for 3/4 of the year. How would I go about finding myself a "home each night" and local driving position? Would I have to do OTR first to get experience, or should I just get my CDL and keep my eye out for local driving jobs?

Here's the thing: I need to have a plan before relocating to FLA. You mentioned there's a shortage of drivers. Is it pretty safe to say someone with a CDL could relocate to FLA and find a trucking job within, say, two or three weeks? >


Having said that due to the shortage of drivers it's common to work 60 hour weeks and most pay is activity based meaning miles driven or deliveries made, so there is an opportunity to make a good living but there is no concept as overtime.

< Ok, I'm still not sure about this, haha. So truckers are paid by miles driven or deliveries made. So my company would keep track of how many times I've driven back and forth between, say, Melbourne FLA and Miami?

I think I'm not really getting the concept of how trucking works. Do you pick up a load in the morning, drive it somewhere, then drive home and clock out for the day? Or do you do lots of local deliveries in one day?

Or does it go more like this:

- Start in Miami, FLA

- Haul a load to Chicago, IL

- Haul a load back to Miami, FLA

- Have 3-4 days off


See, I'm not even sure how OTR and local driving differs. I'm really clueless about all this, and I'm worried about speaking with company recruiters...I feel like they might say anything just to get me to sign up with them. After all, that's their job, right? >


And back to my original question, do you have a business degree?  Perhaps becoming a dispatcher or other "inside" job would provide a good long term opportunity.  In Florida the opportunities are statewide in all the major cities and ports.  Hope this helps.

< I considered this too, but I didn't see any job listings for dispatchers or inside positions--just driving. Besides, aren't most dispatchers former drivers who know the lingo, the routes, the codes and DOT laws, etc?

Do you possibly know which parts of FLA might be best for the trucking industry--where the most jobs are, the biggest/most companies, etc? I'm flexible with relocating, and I'd definitely prefer moving to an area where there's lots of opportunity in this area. >


Thanks again Jim, you're really being a HUGE help as I'm trying to make this decision. I don't know anyone in the trucking industry, and your information is really helping to make things easier. I appreciate it. I hope you had a great 4th of July weekend too.

Best,
Rob

Answer
So Rob, the BA in English won't hurt.  Many drivers barely  communicate in English so this is a plus. In Florida bi-lingual with Spanish is even better.  As you noted the catch 22 is how to get experience.  The answer is find the smaller companies that are having the hardest time finding drivers and may pay less to get your foot in the door.  There is a very high turnover rate in the driver community.  After demonstrating a safe record for a couple of years it is common to get offered signing bonuses to jump to another company.  The long haul OTR jobs pay the best because it's even harder to find qualified drivers willing to live on the road.  Older drivers will often move from OTR to local trucking to get a better lifestyle. There is always more competition for those jobs and lower income as well.  All of your examples are possibilities. A typical day from Central Florida is run to Miami or Jacksonville and back home for a 10-12 hour day. Or maybe go back and forth between Tampa and Orlando a couple of times.  It all depends on the company and what customers they service.  I like Central Florida because you can draw a 250 mile radius and cover all major metro areas out and back within a single shift.  From North FL (JAX) you would pick up Atlanta and Savannah also good trucking markets.

You may find companies willing to invest their dollars in your CDL training in exchange for a contract to drive for them.  If you find a better job before the contract is up you may have to buy it out by paying back the cost of the school and perhaps a buyout fee.  But it's a way to get the first two years of experience if you are committed to it.  You are correct that many dispatchers are former drivers but in addition to the lingo they need the ability to work with people.  Many drivers are loners that have difficulty making that transition.

Best of luck Rob.

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Jim Bowers

Expertise

Expertise in U.S. Trucking Industry, Solution Development, Pricing issues, Bid process, Negotiations, Costing and Pricing information systems.

Experience

30 years. LTL, TL, and Dedicated Pricing programs, Activity Based Costing, Cost modeling.

Organizations
Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, Past Board Member, Treasurer, Secretary of Central Florida Roundtable.

Education/Credentials
BA Marketing, University of South Florida.

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