Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Truck Driver
Is truck driving for me? This is for all the fresh fish looking to enter the industry wanting to know what the truck driver life is like and tips on how best to do it.
Let’s kick off by covering the basics: Types of CDL driving, positions, and freight.
There are many types of CDL jobs that are not necessarily just truck driving, such as driving a school bus, motor coaches, box trucks and more. This is dependent of the class of license. There are 3 classes: A, B, and C. For our purposes, a Class A CDL is what most truck drivers have along with any necessary endorsements such as hazmat and doubles.
One thing to know are the types of runs that a driver will do. There are local positions where most the jobs do not run outside a 100-mile radius of their home terminal. The opposite of a local job would be an over-the-road position where drivers are gone any where from a few weeks to a few months at a time doing long hauls, typically cross country. Lastly, regional positions are those that aren’t necessarily local but don’t run nearly as far as over-the-road positions. These drivers are typically out a week or two at a time.
Another basic piece of knowledge is recognizing there are all sorts of freight types and that with certain types of freight, you’ll need specific endorsements. Dry vans, flatbeds, reefer vans (refrigerated vans), and loads like these do not typically need endorsements but if you plan to haul chemicals, tankers, doubles or even triples, you will need these endorsements on your Class A CDL.
Lastly, there are two types of drivers when it comes to who’s the boss. There are company drivers who are directly employed by the company they work for, they are typically on a w2 type of payroll and sometimes are even considered a 1099 (contract) employee. Then there’s being an owner operator. This is where you own your truck, have your own entity as a company and contract with a company that will provide runs while you receive most the profit for the load.
Throughout a driver’s career they will likely drive multiple types of positions and freight that will gain them experience that many companies value. Diversifying your experience behind the wheel will make you a sought-after candidate down the road (pun intended).
What are you looking for in a CDL job and what will work for you?
If you are considering becoming a driver you need to consider what you are looking for in the short term and long term. Getting a CDL license can become a lucrative source of income, but you should carefully weigh what it may mean for your work/life balance.
If you are just starting out of high school or younger and haven’t started a family, you might be looking to hit the road right away and get miles on your belt doing long-haul over-the-road driving to get that experience while you’re young. This can pay well and set you up for future success.
More thought and planning may need to be considered if you are looking to make a career change while you have a family that you need to support at home. While it may not pay as much as over-the-road jobs, regional and local positions may be a better fit in order to balance home time with making that income.
Or say you’re done with corporate life and just want to see the country and make money while doing it. Many that have retired a bit earlier in life from their office job might just want to change it up while still earning a decent income. Maybe you’re an empty nester or just looking to do something different, over-the-road and regional may be what works best by giving you the opportunity to see and meet people and places from all over.
One last thing to consider is how you would prefer getting paid, if that is something you would like to factor into your decision. The typical pay structure for over the road is cents-per-mile where a driver is paid a set rate of cents per mile they drive while loaded. Another type is percentage. This can vary from company driver to owner operator. For example, a company driver may make anywhere between 10%-25% of a load while an owner operator may make 75% per load. As far as an hourly rate or salary rate, you will likely find that with local and sometimes regional jobs.
Maybe you’re starting to see what would work for you as a truck driver, but you can’t make any decisions till you get that license!
Now that you have decided you’re all in, how do you get your CDL license?
Most states have their own rules and regulations when it comes to getting your Class A CDL license. Some require formal classroom training while other let you “teach yourself” and get the license by testing for it.
Either way, the safest and most secure route would be receiving some type of training behind the desk and behind the wheel. There are many private CDL schools out there to choose from and there are also classes and programs at local community colleges. Though, if you’re in a hurry and need to start earning money quick, many large companies offer to pay for your CDL training (likely a school within the company) in exchange for a full contract to work for them any where from a year or more and only take weeks to complete.
Depending on your situation at home and/or financially, it is incredibly important to consider where you get your training from. If you have the time and financial means, getting your CDL training through a community college may be the best route since there is a certified curriculum that comes with a heavy amount of support from the professors and hands-on experience.
This may not be an option for you though, so be sure to look into all the resources at your disposal in order to get the necessary education in order to pass the exam.
Once you’ve taken and passed your exam, you’ll be issued a temporary license with an official one that will come in the mail and now it is time to start gaining your experience as an official truck driver.
Another important item on the list is getting your medical card. Passing a DOT physical is required to make sure you are fit for the road. Things that may impair your driving like heart issues, eye sight, and other medical conditions may keep you from getting your license so be sure and account for this when making your decision.
It’s important to note that new drivers may find a bit of difficulty getting in with a reputable company for their first gig so be sure to do these things:
- Keep a clean driving record
- Get references from your instructors and anyone else that could help land you a job
- Research questions to ask recruiters when you land a call with one to determine if it’s a right fit.
- Don’t lose hope! Keep your confidence up and keep trying until you feel you’ve gotten with the right company for you!
If driving doesn’t work out, there are many other options in the industry!
So maybe you’ve done your research and realized that a job in logistics behind the wheel isn’t right for you. There are tons of opportunities within the transportation industry that need all sorts of people to fill. Or you are one of those looking to get out from behind the wheel but want to utilize the knowledge you’ve gained from your time on the road. Many positions include:
- Fleet Management
- Logistics Coordinating
- Safety & Compliance
And many more…
Some of these may require further schooling but can keep you in a secure job market without having to leave home.
Are you currently a driver and looking for a change of scenery?
Check out our open lanes and positions here at Meadow Lark and call our awesome team members today with any questions you’ve got! Join a team that stays driver focused and stick to their word.
Want to learn more before you start thinking about us? Feel free to dive into who we really are and where we come from.