A career as a truck driver can be extremely rewarding. However, settling into your new job can take some time, and you might hit some rough patches during your first year. Here are some tips to prepare you for the challenges ahead.
Prepare Your Budget
Truck driving can be a lucrative job, but when you first start out, you will make less money than your peers. This is especially true if you enroll in a company-sponsored commercial driver's license (CDL) training program. These programs are often completed in a relatively short period of time so you may get on the road quickly. if the training is paid, the pay is often minimal. Usually, however, the training isn't paid; you will pay for it via deductions from your paycheck for the first year or two that you are working for the company.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, truck drivers earn an average of just over $40,000 per year. However, many trucking companies advertise higher rates of pay for experienced drivers. After a few years, you may be able to make more than $80,000 per year.
If it is at all possible, it is a good idea to have some money in your savings account so you can maintain your lifestyle while your new trucking career gets underway.
Accept the Learning Curve
When you first start your new job, you'll likely be paired with a driver trainer. Some trainers are easygoing and not a problem to get along with — but others aren't so personable. If you find it challenging to get along with your trainer, have patience. You won't have to work so closely with this person forever, and getting through the personality conflicts will be worth it in the end.
Also, set realistic expectations and accept that you will make mistakes during your first year. Other drivers might get frustrated with you if you take too long to back into a space, you might have a tough time dealing with certain clients, or you could encounter any number of other issues. Be humble and willing to learn. Even truck drivers who have been driving over the road for years make occasional missteps.
What to Expect at Your First Trucking Job
Expect to Adjust Your Lifestyle
Trucking is like no other career. While many jobs demand consistent training and long hours, few jobs will force you to be away from home for weeks at a time. You will have to adjust your lifestyle to fit the demands of the career. Unless you’ve been in the military, you’ve probably never been away from home for so long and so often. Be prepared to make the necessary changes so you can live a rewarding life as a trucker.
Expect to Get Less Favorable Assignments
You may have passed through CDL school at the top of your class, but you still need to prove yourself in the “real world.” If you are on your first trucking job, you can expect to be assigned the less desired assignments, at least for a short while. Don’t take it personally. You’re new, untested, and still learning. Be patient and take every assignment with enthusiasm and it won’t be long until you are getting the more lucrative and enjoyable routes.
Expect to Miss Your Loved Ones
It’s sad, but it needs to be said. You can expect to miss your loved ones while you’re on the road. It doesn’t mean you’re not cut out to be a trucker, it simply means you’re human. Remember to keep in close contact with your kids, spouse, and parents while you’re on the road and you’ll be able to get home in no time. Stay motivated and remember that your loved ones are the reason you work so hard.
Expect to Get Lost
It happens to everyone, and it will happen to you. When you get lost, pull over, relax, and look at your directions. Find out where you are and where you need to be and you’ll be back on your route in no time. Avoid Google maps and car-based GPS systems, as these can lead you down roads that are inaccessible for semi trucks. One of the best practices is to simply call the place you’re headed, as they can give you accurate directions to your destination. Don’t be embarrassed, they likely take these calls all the time.
Expect to See Things That You Never Thought Existed
The scenery might be the reason you got into trucking in the first place. Expect to see parts of the country that you have never seen before, including areas that you never knew existed. Did you know that the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame sits inside a 143-foot long fish statue? Did you know that there is a town in Wyoming with a listed population of two people? You’ll discover little facts like these every day when you live the interesting life of a trucker!
Adjust to the New Schedule
One of the biggest challenges for new truck drivers is the grueling schedule, especially if you want to be an over-the-road (OTR) driver. Mike Rogers, an experienced former driver and CDL instructor, says, "This is more of a lifestyle with a paycheck than it is a job with a paycheck. This is especially true for OTR and long-haul drivers who are away from home for extended periods of time and working close to 70 hours per week."
If you have a family, make sure they understand your new schedule. Setting up ways to stay in touch if you'll be gone for long periods of time will help to stay connected..
Prepare To Be Tested
During your first year, you'll likely learn about all the tough aspects of trucking. Your employer might intentionally test you by sending you to deal with tough customers or assigning you to go to regions where the roads are difficult to drive on. You might get stuck with undesirable loads. More experienced drivers might have the power to say no to these challenging situations, but newbies often don't have that luxury.
The goal of this testing is to see what you're made of. Part of the reason turnover is so high in the trucking industry is because a lot of people don't stick around to make it through the testing. Hang in there. Things will get easier as you gain more experience.
Embarking on your career as a truck driver will be a challenge, but the rewards are worth it. With some mental toughness, reasonable expectations, and a prepared budget, you can make it through your first year in trucking with flying colors.