Commercial trucking, like any job, has its ups and downs. The road is smooth for the most part, but it can become bumpy at times and turn unexpectedly.
That said, the industry is known for its welcoming atmosphere, attracting drivers of diverse backgrounds. What’s more, pay has been increasing along with other benefits, making commercial drivers some of the best-paid individuals outside of the office.
Many have gone on to enjoy fulfilling careers behind the wheel. However, not everyone is cut out for the job.
Reliance Partners’ Vice President of Safety Brian Runnels and Director of Safety Robert Kaferle contrast the expectations and realities of the trucking lifestyle and describe the characteristics that greatly determine success in the industry.
If one thing is for certain, it’s that trucking will take you out of your element.
A lot of drivers enter the industry with dreams of seeing America and all its beauty. While the gig can lead you to exotic places far from home, Kaferle reminds new truckers not to consider commercial driving a vacation; don’t expect you’ll be sightseeing while on the clock.
For example, a friend of his, a doctor, said his dream for retirement is to enter trucking and see the United States. Kaferle explained to him that the only sights he should expect to see are what’s along the freeway.
“You can’t take your truck to the Alamo; you can’t take your truck through downtown San Antonio or to Dealey Plaza [in Dallas],” Kaferle said.
Recruiters and companies are doing everything they possibly can to make the job more attractive, Runnels said. With new trucks and advanced in-cab technology, never before have drivers had access to such resources and comfort on the job.
But frustrations can arise if everyone’s not on the same page. Reports of carriers using misleading practices isn’t unheard of, but it’s often the case that drivers misinterpret a recruiter’s pitch or simply do not consider any sort of setbacks that could arise when assessing the job.
“With any sort of sales, which recruiting is, they’re selling the absolute best-case scenario that their particular company has to offer,” Runnels said. “It’s technically not wrong because if everything lines up, the best is possible. The problem lies in that there’s a lot of gaps that drivers can fall into and not receive exactly what they expected.”
Age may play a factor in job frustration, as the industry’s “fresh” drivers tend to be relatively advanced in years. The median age of over-the-road drivers is 46 while the average age of a new truck driver in training is 35, according to a 2019 report from the American Trucking Associations.
This concerns Runnels not only because the industry is having a hard time finding younger drivers, but also because the older “new” drivers are entering the industry with preconceived work expectations. He said that those who’ve spent many years working 9-to-5 jobs, such as factory workers with union hours and set holidays, may have a hard time adjusting to life on the road.
But prior work experience can, on the other hand, be invaluable. For instance, because of their experience in working long shifts at odd hours, Runnels has seen coal miners, firefighters and farmers transition very well to the trucking lifestyle.
Trucking’s a career only for sharp-minded individuals who thrive under stressful mental and physical conditions. If you’re adventurous, hardworking and always up for a challenge, then trucking is definitely a career to consider.
Those with short attention spans or who easily grow impatient may want to steer clear. Kaferle warns against speeding but also against the dangers of being lulled by monotony.
“It’s so beneficial to fight through all those things that Robert pointed out, relating to monotony and boredom,” Runnels said. “There’s a huge accident waiting to happen if you get bored and complacent.”
“The perfect company doesn’t exist because if it did, there would only be one trucking company and we’d all work for ’em,” Runnels said, urging truckers not to nitpick the small things, but to weigh the good with the bad.
“If the company has more goods than bads and it’s working for you … stay and try to make it as close to utopian as you possibly can because jumping ship and starting over and being on the bottom of the totem pole again is not a way to get preferred runs and days off. It just makes you the new guy all over again.”
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