There are few industries that are as misunderstood as trucking. People really have no idea what a career as a truck driver is really going to be like, or how truck driver training is done. People very much underestimate how difficult and complex this job really is.
Unfortunately it's these misconceptions that often lead people astray early on in their career. When training isn't done the way they expected it to be done or the job isn't as simple as they thought it was going to be it really throws people off. They become stressed out and confused by the training process, and they start to believe they've chosen the wrong company or the wrong career altogether.
We've asked drivers what they think the biggest misconceptions are when it comes to a career in trucking and we've received a ton of great responses. Here are their thoughts, starting with my own.
You Have To Handle So Many Responsibilities Yourself
It's funny, because a lot of people will tell you that one of the reasons they got started in trucking is because they don't want their boss looking over their shoulder, watching every move, and micromanaging them. Hey, fair enough. I agree.
Yet somehow it doesn't dawn on people that it means you have to handle a lot more of the responsibilities yourself. You have to figure out things on your own.
- How to manage your clock efficiently
- How to log your time in the logbook
- Make sure you have the proper directions and load information
- Make sure the truck gets in for scheduled maintenance and unexpected breakdowns
- Keep dispatch informed about your arrival times and any changes in schedule
- Convince customers to load and unload you ahead of schedule to keep moving
- Plan out every one of your trips from beginning to end
There's a long list of responsibilities that now fall onto your shoulders. No one is there to hold your hand. That's what you wanted, right? Well then you'd better take charge and learn how to handle everything yourself. Don't sit back thinking they're going to load 3,000 miles per week on you automatically. Oh heck no. You have to earn it, you have to lobby for it, and you have to learn the tricks of the trade that allow you to turn those kind of miles safely, consistently, and reliably.
It's A Lifestyle, Not An Easy Way To Get Rich
Many would argue the change in lifestyle, the time away from home and family, the risk, and the other demands of trucking are too much to ask for the money it pays. Others wouldn't trade this job for any other. But you'd better understand just how demanding it is before you get started.
If you're in it for the money, then you're in it for the wrong reason!
But it's not all serious all the time:
I expected it to be strictly business, luckily it wasn't. It was a little laid back but my instructors were very good at making sure you learned while they made it interesting to learn.
There Are Surprises In Every Phase Of Your Career
Errol, one of the moderators of our trucker's forum has something for everyone in all different phases:
Life On The Road
I didn't imagine I could live comfortably in such a small space. The sleeper area on a truck is about the size of a walk-in closet. Yet I got plenty of my "living stuff" on board.
How Was The Training Different?
If you have military training/ experience, you can handle it. Much of the class time you are in a truck, working on your driving skills. And backing up a truck is a whole 'nother animal than backing a trailer with your pickup.
How was the job itself different than you expected it to be?
Having been around the block several times (I'm 66) I'd say truck driving is very doable. If you're just starting your working life, you will need to be 100% responsible for what you do and don't do. This may be harder than you expect. A truck driver is on their own - no one watching over your shoulder - almost the whole time.
Best Advice For Preparing
Driving a vehicle that is 4 x longer than your car will come as a surprise. Seriously, my advice is to get the broom, hold the top of the handle against your waist, and walk around the house. Do not touch any furniture or door posts with the broom handle!
The frustration from learning to back this beast into a warehouse door and park it could lead a grown man to tears. Yet nearly everyone driving an 18 wheeler learned how to do it.
Training Is One Thing, Going Solo Is Quite Another
Rainy, like most of us, wasn't too thrilled with the training phase when you go on the road and run team with a mentor. She thinks it gets a lot better once you go solo:
Training and going solo are two completely different scenarios. Don't quit during training because you still have no idea what life on the road truly is yet. Trucking is not for everyone, but be sure to give it enough time to understand what you are quitting should you choose to do so.
What surprised me the most was the freedom I have. I love getting messages that say "go to A and take trailer to B". How I get there, when and where I break is all my decision. I have gone weeks even months without needing to talk to my FM on the phone.
The Old Stereotypes And Movies Do Not Apply
The old trucking movies were super cool, but that isn't the reality of today's industry:
It's not what you see on the internet or movies. Truckers are not all amped up on drugs, bedding hookers and otherwise engaged in various nefarious activities.
Trucks are no longer the cramped, sweatboxes of old. Small, yes. Uncomfortable prisons, no.
The name calling, disrespect seen on the internet directed towards various "Starter" companies rarely rears its head in the real world.
It's Not About Choosing The Right Company
One of the biggest misconceptions you'll find is that there are a few good companies out there you should hope to land a job with, and a bunch of bad ones to avoid. When it comes to the major carriers, this isn't the case at all. Old School sets the record straight and lets you know that the responsibility for your success or failure in this industry lies squarely on the driver's shoulders:
Don't stress yourself out over which company you are going to get started with. I think most people really get themselves caught in a trap that has no basis in reality when they start the whole process of getting started in this career. They read all these scary reports online in trucking forums and company review sites that are baseless as far as factual and helpful information. Most of them are produced by rookies who don't even know what they are talking about, much less have any real experience at making a career out of trucking. Why would anyone want to take their advice from people who were dropouts and failures at the career that they are now trying to understand and make a start in? It defies logic, yet it is something that everyone seems to do when they are trying to get started in trucking. They look at all the internet sites where the guys and gals who failed at trucking are telling their foolish tales of woe.
Don't fall prey to that approach. Get out here and write your own success story. Have the courage to get yourself signed up with one of the major carriers who are able to hire newly licensed CDL drivers and establish your own record as a professional driver who measures out his own level of success. Don't be afraid of starting out with a major carrier whose name you have seen plastered around as a terrible place to work. Remember the folks who went to all the trouble of slandering that particular company, didn't have a clue when they started this career, and still don't know what they are talking about now that they have proven themselves as failures at it. I've always maintained that the name on the doors of your truck has little or nothing to do with your success at trucking. You hold the keys to success at this, and your career will be established and developed as you learn the practices and the ways of the other successful drivers who have gone before you. Trucking hasn't changed much for decades now. The things that made for success back ten and twenty years ago are still the same today. It truly is an extraordinary job for extraordinary people. And it is those extraordinary people who make it work every day out here.
Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy
G-Town, another of our forum moderators, talks about how challenging it is to shoulder such a huge responsibility, and about how many good people you'll find out there in this industry:
Surprises...lots of them.
For starters the incredible freedom we are granted comes with a price. Full and total accountability and responsibility for anything and everything regarding your truck and the space around it. I didn't begin to realize the true reality of this responsibility until about my third month. I believe this is one of the biggest "gotchas" that takes down a rookie driver. It's something that although attempted, cannot really be taught. It must be experienced first hand to gain the necessary mental and physical tools to required to handle it.
The other more positive surprise is the number of decent people I have met in this job, the trusted friends I have made and the diversity. Although truck driving is a very difficult job, there are zero barriers when it comes to equality in hiring practices and company culture. Behind the wheel of the beast knows not the color of a man or woman's skin. I have been around for a long time, and have yet to witness and observe anything quite like it. We are all in this together, bound by a common thread, and depend on each other's skill and prudence for safe passage.
From A Recruiter Who Has Seen It All
Derek McClain has been a recruiter with Driver Solutions for a long, long time and they recruit for PAM Transport's Company-Sponsored Training Program. Derek has watched a lot of drivers become successful over the years, but an awful lot fall short too. He has some great advice:
The biggest misconception is thinking that trucking is all about driving. There’s so much more to it. Trip planning, rules and regulations, logs, relationships with customer and dispatchers, I could go on and on. Yes, you need to be a good driver who gets from point A to point B on time, safely. But this isn’t the end all be all of trucking. Being a professional trucker is more than just being a driver. Once you understand what that means, that’s when you can go from good to great.
You aren’t going to make the big bucks right away
Time after time, drivers come in thinking they are going to blow it out of the water during the first year. Yes, you can make good money. But in order to do that you’re going to have to run hard. Understand that during the first year in trucking, the experience is more valuable than any amount of money they could be paying you. Also understand that one year really isn’t that long. You’ll get there and the hard work will pay off. Just don’t have the misconception that it’s going to happen right away.
- Derek McClain
To Sum It Up
Getting your career started in trucking is going to be far more difficult than you expect. The training is tough, the job is stressful, and the lifestyle is exhausting. But the rewards for getting the job done are fantastic if you're the right person for the job. The satisfaction you get, the adventure you live every day out there, the interesting people you meet, the beautiful scenery, and the amazing experiences make it one of the most exciting and interesting careers you'll find anywhere. But it comes at a price. You're going to have to work incredibly hard and pay your dues for a while before things get easier and the rewards start coming your way.