I recently got a question from a visitor asking about finding part time work in the trucking industry with a company that would have to give him the flexibility to run loads according to his schedule and lifestyle. He has a full time job already that he will likely retire from, but thought it might be an interesting endeavor to haul a few loads on the side when he could. As great as that idea sounds, it is very rare that you can find something like that. In fact, the idea reminded me of the fact that one of the biggest problems new drivers face in the trucking industry is having the wrong expectations of the job, the industry, life on the road, and the trucking company they work for. Fortunately, this recent visitor was diligent enough to ask the right questions before making a commitment to getting into the industry, but not everyone does. So I'm going to set a few things straight for those who are considering becoming a truck driver, so that a lot of pain and trouble can be avoided.
For most truck drivers, every day is completely new and different from the previous day, and you generally have no idea what's in store for you an hour from now, let alone tomorrow or next week. Most of us have worked in factories, warehouses, and retail shops before ever getting into trucking, and we know what it's like to do the same thing at the same place at the same time day in and day out. Wow.... I just bored myself to tears just writing that sentence! But that's the normal day to day life for most people outside of the trucking industry. Everyday is pretty much the same.
Not so in trucking. Everything constantly changes - the weather, the traffic, where you are, where you're going, along with a million different variables inside your own company which will affect your life dramatically. Trucking is an incredibly competitive industry with tight profit margins and cutthroat tactics executed by companies trying to survive. Whatever a company has to do to survive they will do, and the drivers will have to go along with them, or move on to another company where they will more than likely be faced with the same situations again. So let's take a look at what trucking companies are faced with.
Trucking companies do everything they can to survive. They change personnel, software packages, pricing, customers, trucks, policies, and routing just to try to save a nickel or gain a nickel in revenues. I was once told by a trustworthy manager at a large company I worked for that if everything goes just right, the company averages about a $50 profit from a 500-mile load. If that truck blows a tire, breaks down, or the company gets fined by DOT after a truck inspection, there goes all the profit from that load, and the next few after that. If you doubt what I'm saying, go through the financial statements of publicly traded trucking companies and you'll see that most of them barely break even over a period of several years. They'll make $10 million one year, lose $12 million the next, make $5 million the next, etc, etc. But in the end, they're lucky just to stay alive. It's a cutthroat, commodity-type industry, meaning that only the price matters most of the time to their customers, and they'll leave you in a heartbeat to save a dime.
It was amazing throughout the years how many times I would have a driver complain to me that he/she worked for a lousy company and wasn't being treated the way he/she deserved. I tried avoiding the rest of the conversation most of the time because after a while I knew what was coming, and almost every time it was the same thing - it was the driver's fault. Now keep in mind I drove for over 15 years and I never worked in the office of a trucking company. So if anything, my opinion should be biased toward the driver's perspective, but I understand the realities that trucking companies face for survival, and the drivers have to do their part to keep the company afloat. But most drivers don't understand this at all. They think all trucking companies are making a fortune and should bend over backwards for their drivers. In reality, most trucking companies do bend over backwards for their drivers, but many drivers' expectations of whom should be sacrificing what for whom is often skewed.
These drivers that were complaining about the poor treatment and poor miles would eventually bring the conversation around to the part I knew was coming - their own demands and expectations. Within minutes they'd be spouting off a list of demands and preferences a mile long:
Listen, people. This list of demands and expectations you have - drop 'em. Immediately. The bottom line is, you do what you have to do to survive out there, in terms of safety for yourself and profit for you and your company. Safety first, always - we all understand that. But you must be able to adapt, adjust, and go with the flow to get the job done, or you either won't have a job or you won't have a company to work for because they'll go broke and disappear.
If the company switches from Freightliner (Sterling) to Kenworths because they can save a bunch of money, then you drive Kenworths. If they change software packages to create a more efficient system, then you adapt to the changes in your scheduling and load planning. If they acquire new customers in the Northeast because of higher profit runs, then you run the Northeast more often. If you have a load that delivers at 2 a.m., then you get your ass up and get it delivered at 2 a.m. If you have to deliver to grocery warehouses a lot, then you deliver to them a lot. If you have a load that delivers in downtown Chicago at 8 a.m., then you figure out a way to schedule your driving time so you can get in there without being late due to traffic conditions.
Trucking companies get paid by the mile or by the load, just like the driver does. If the truck isn't moving, nobody is making any money. In fact, the company is losing money every time that truck sits. The trucking industry has big peaks and valleys throughout the year - it gets incredibly busy in the months leading up to Christmas, and completely dies for a couple of months after that.
When the freight is available and you can run it safely, you run it. Period. I don't care if it's not the perfect conditions for driving, because in reality, 95% of the time there's nothing perfect about the conditions. It's too hot, too cold, too much traffic, bad directions, heavy load in the mountains, you're tired, you're bored, it's nighttime, etc. Every driver faces these same challenges every day, and the best ones suck it up, run freight when the runnin' is good, and get the job done safely.
You wanna complain? No problem. Call your wife, get on the CB, go sit at the counter in the restaurant and complain to the other drivers, scream out the windshield - whatever makes you feel better. It doesn't matter to me. Then you get your dispatcher on the line, tell him you're heading over to get that load right away, and you get the job done - or somebody else will. And then you'll be telling everyone in all the trucking forums how lousy your company is and how poorly they treat you, and I'm going to have to follow behind you and clean up your misconceptions that are polluting the information pool for others looking to become truck drivers, or looking to work for that company.
If this blog seems harsh, it's because I want you to understand just how difficult life on the road can be. It's tough. Very tough. But if you're the type that's cut out for it, it's an amazing way to live. It can be a very rewarding, adventurous, and exciting lifestyle - no question about it. But it's almost never easy, and there's going to be a lot of demands put on you and the challenges never end. If this doesn't concern you, then you may not be comprehending what I'm saying, or maybe you love being challenged and you're looking forward to it. I sure hope it's the latter.
But regardless of how you feel about it, trucking is what it is and you're not going to change it, but it is going to change you. It changed me for the better in a million ways and I'm forever grateful for my time on the road. What an amazing time it's been! But my God it was a brutal lifestyle sometimes, and that aspect of it will likely never change.
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