According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, truck driving is one of the highest paying jobs that doesn’t require a degree, with the average median salary at over $47,000. With a truck driver shortage that spans nearly two decades and demand for truckers increasing across the U.S., salaries will likely increase substantially in coming years. But if you’re interested in becoming a truck driver, it can be hard to know where to start. Below, we outline the steps for becoming a truck driver as well as some career advice for new drivers to ensure their success for the long haul.
How to Start Your Trucking Career with No Experience
Becoming a trucker is not a long and difficult process, but it does take some time—usually a few weeks or months—and some formal training for a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). That’s because truckers not only need to understand traffic rules in and out, but also how to secure freight, plan road trips, and most importantly how to maintain and inspect their rig to ensure their safety and the safety of everyone else on the road.
Before you begin: A valid driver’s license is the obvious prerequisite for starting a career in trucking, and you must be at least 21 years of age in most states. Most trucking companies also prefer candidates with a high school diploma or GED. Earning your GED usually only takes 4 to 6 months in most states and makes a major difference on your trucking application.
Go ahead and start researching trucking companies to see if they’re hiring, even if you don’t have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) or experience, though. Because truckers are in such high demand, some companies will pay for your training or train you for the CDL themselves.
Get professional truck driver training: Typically truck drivers learn how to drive big rigs at truck drivers’ school or through community college. These programs are offered full- or part-time, and usually take 3 to 7 weeks. They typically cost between $3,000 and $10,000, but there are federal grants available and you can sometimes apply for company reimbursement while you train. When choosing professional truck driver training, look for programs that maximize driving hours, as most companies require you log 120 to 160 hours of training.
Take the CDL: To become a professional trucker, you have to pass your state’s Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) exam, which includes a written and skills test. Depending on the CDL class, these tests cost about $40-45 in Tennessee. The written, general knowledge test that provides your CDL learner’s permit takes the same form in all states: a 50-question, multiple choice test with a 60-minute time limit. You can take free practice tests online or even download apps or practice worksheets to help you study.
The skills portion of the CDL requires that you demonstrate your truck-driving skills, and just like passing the test for a regular driver’s license, you must train with a licensed CDL driver in the passenger seat. That’s why most people attend a professional truck driving school to get hands-on practice and training. In Tennessee, you have to schedule a CDL skills test at a CDL road test location.
Know Your CDL Classifications and Endorsements
It’s also important understand the different types of CDLs and endorsements before you begin applying for truck driving jobs or professional training, as these will determine what kind of truck you can drive, what you can haul, and your compensation. There are 3 CDL classifications:
Class A: Primary classification required to drive any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, if the towed vehicle is heavier than 10,000 pounds. This is the typical license for tractor-trailers, tankers, flatbeds and most Class B and C vehicles.
Class B: Required to drive any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds or trucks with a towed cargo vehicle weighing less than 10,000 pounds. This license covers vehicles like large city or tourist buses, box trucks and dump trucks.
Class C: Required to drive a single vehicle with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds or a vehicle towing another vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds or transports 16 or more people. This license covers passenger vans, tank trucks and HAZMAT vehicles.
There are also several types of CDL endorsements that affect what you can haul and how much money you make, and they usually require an additional, written knowledge test.
- (P) Passenger Transport Endorsement
- (S) School Bus/Passenger Transport Combo Endorsement
- (T) Double/Triple Endorsement (tanker)
- (N) tank Vehicle Endorsement (tanker)
- (H) Hazardous Materials Endorsement
- (X) Tanker/HAZMAT Combo Endorsement
How to Propel Your Career as a Truck Driver
Experience is the single most desirable trait in truck drivers, so logging as much seat time as possible in your first few years will help increase your earnings now and in the future. Most truckers will tell you that it takes about a year to really settle into your truck driving skills. In your first year, your main goal should be to remain accident-free. Maintaining an excellent safety record is a highly sought-after quality and can set you apart from the crowd on any future application.
The next step in ensuring a great trucking career is making sure you can take on as many different trucking jobs as possible. Achieving multiple endorsements and training on multiple vehicles will allow you to earn more money by taking on the more expensive loads. Being able to pass any background checks necessary for special clearances can also be a significant differentiator.
Truck Driver Jobs at a Transportation Company in East Tennessee
Are you ready to start a career with high pay and great benefits with a supportive, empowering company? Roane Transportation is a transportation company in East Tennessee, and we are always looking to hire passionate, dedicated flatbed truck drivers. Currently, our top areas where we need to hire are East TN; Nashville, TN; Atlanta, GA; and Charlotte, NC. We offer industry-leading pay and excellent benefits to all of our truck drivers, plus guaranteed weekly home time. Our equipment is state-of-the-art to ensure the safety of our drivers and the loads they carry. With our national, regional, and local fleets, you are sure to find the perfect fit with our company. If you are interested in becoming a part of our flatbed trucking team, give us a call today at 865-354-3288 or apply online.