In much of the country, there is a clear shortage of speedy and direct routes to the middle class. Yet there remains at least one accessible profession — truck driving — where industry experts see a lack of bodies to fill available seats and collect substantial paychecks.
In a nationwide report last month, the American Trucking Associations estimated a current need for 20,000 to 25,000 big-shipment, long-distance truck drivers. Beyond that, the expected rise in shipping demand coupled with retirements would open up nearly 100,000 new driving jobs in each of the next 10 years, the report said.
"So it's an opportunity for a lot of people," said Bob Costello, the report's author and the trade group's vice president. "You don't need a college education. You need to be a safety-conscious, hard-working individual."
A new long-haul truck driver can generally expect to earn $38,000 to $44,000 before taxes in the first year, according to interviews with trucking company recruiters, industry analysts and training schools. Experienced drivers can earn $50,000 to $65,000 a year.
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"Carriers are competing with each other for those individuals who are high-quality truck drivers," said Walter Heinritzi, executive director of the Michigan Trucking Association. "The demand for freight will continue to increase — that's pretty much acknowledged — but the number of people choosing to go into trucking has not increased."
Some trucking companies will reimburse new hires for training school, but usually in monthly increments of $150 to $200.
Industry experts say new drivers often sour to the trucking lifestyle and spending weeks away from home.
Mike Hinz, vice president of driver recruitment for Wisconsin-based carrier Schneider National, predicts the truck driver shortage will result in a pay increase of 5 percent to 8 percent in the next year and a half. But he cautions against jumping into the profession just because the money is good.
"A lot of times people come into the industry without recognizing just what a challenge it can be," Hinz said. "It certainly is not just holding onto a steering wheel; there's a lot of professionalism and maturity that go into it."