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Truck Drivers, Heavy and Tractor-Trailer - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Although most new truck drivers are assigned to regular driving jobs immediately, some start as extra drivers—substituting for regular drivers who are ill or on vacation. Extra drivers receive a regular assignment when an opening occurs.

Truck drivers can advance to jobs that provide higher earnings, preferred schedules, or better working conditions. Long-haul truck drivers primarily look for new contracts that offer better pay per mile or higher bonuses. Because companies entrust drivers with millions of dollars worth of equipment and freight, drivers who have a long record of safe driving earn far more than new drivers. Local truck drivers may advance to driving heavy or specialized trucks or transfer to long-distance truck driving. Truck drivers occasionally advance to become dispatchers or managers.

Some long-haul truck drivers—called owner-operators—purchase or lease trucks and go into business for themselves. Although some are successful, others fail to cover expenses and go out of business. Owner-operators should have good business sense as well as truck driving experience. Courses in accounting, business, and business mathematics are helpful. Knowledge of truck mechanics can enable owner-operators to perform their own routine maintenance and minor repairs.

Employment
Truck drivers and driver/sales workers held about 3.2 million jobs in 2008. Of these workers, 56 percent were heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers; 31 percent were light or delivery services truck drivers; and 13 percent were driver/sales workers. Most truck drivers find employment in large metropolitan areas or along major interstate roadways where trucking, retail, and wholesale companies tend to have their distribution outlets. Some drivers work in rural areas, providing specialized services such as delivering newspapers to customers.

The truck transportation industry employed 27 percent of all truck drivers and driver/sales workers in the United States. Another 26 percent worked for companies engaged in wholesale or retail trade. The remaining truck drivers and driver/sales workers were distributed across many industries, including construction and manufacturing.

Around 8 percent of all truck drivers and driver/sales workers were self-employed. Of these, a significant number were owner-operators who either served a variety of businesses independently or leased their services and trucks to a trucking company.

Job Outlook
Overall job opportunities should be favorable for truck drivers, especially for long-haul drivers. However, opportunities may vary greatly in terms of earnings, weekly work hours, number of nights spent on the road, and quality of equipment. Competition is expected for jobs offering the highest earnings or most favorable work schedules. Average employment growth is expected.

Job Growth
Overall employment of truck drivers and driver/sales workers is expected to grow 9 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. As the economy grows, the demand for goods will increase, which will lead to more job opportunities. Because it is such a large occupation, 291,900 new jobs will be created over the 2008-18 period.

The number of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is expected to grow 13 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is about as fast as average, mainly as a result of increasing demand for goods in the U.S. As the economy continues to grow, companies and households will continue to increase their spending on these products, many of which must be shipped over long distances.

Employment of light or delivery services truck drivers should grow 4 percent over the projections decade, which is more slowly than average. Though experiencing slower growth than heavy trucking, light and delivery trucking will similarly be closely tied to the state of the economy. As economic growth occurs, there will be an increasing need for light trucking services, from the distribution of goods from warehouses to the package delivery to households. The number of driver/sales workers is also expected to grow 4 percent between 2008 and 2018, more slowly than average, for the same basic reasons.

Job opportunities should be favorable for truck drivers, especially for long-haul drivers. In addition to occupational growth, numerous job openings will occur as experienced drivers leave this large occupation to transfer to other fields of work, retire, or leave the labor force. As workers leave these jobs, employers work hard to recruit experienced drivers from other companies. As a result, there may be competition for the jobs with the highest earnings and most favorable work schedules. Jobs with local carriers are often more competitive than those with long-distance carriers because of the more desirable working conditions of local carriers.

Despite projected employment growth, the demand for workers may vary greatly depending on the performance of the American economy. During times of expansion, companies may be forced to pay premiums to attract drivers, while during recessions even experienced drivers may find difficulty keeping steady work. Independent owner-operators will be particularly vulnerable to slowdowns. Industries least likely to be affected by economic fluctuation, such as grocery stores, will be the most stable employers of truck drivers and driver/sales workers.

Earnings
Median hourly wages of heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers were $17.92 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.21 and $22.56. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.63, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.07.

Median hourly wages of light or delivery services truck drivers were $13.27 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.07 and $17.74. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.10, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.15.

Median hourly wages of driver/sales workers, including commissions, were $10.70 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $7.74 and $15.82. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.09, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.32.

Employers typically pay long-haul drivers by the mile, with bonus opportunities available for drivers who save the company money. Local truck drivers tend to be paid by the hour, with extra pay for working overtime. The per-mile rate can vary greatly from employer to employer and may even depend on the type of cargo being hauled. Some long-distance drivers—especially owner-operators—are paid a share of the revenue from shipping. Typically, pay increases with experience, seniority, and the size and type of truck driven. Most driver/sales workers receive commissions based on their sales in addition to their wages.

Many truck drivers are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Some truck drivers employed by companies outside the trucking industry are members of unions representing the plant workers of the companies for which they work. In 2008, about 16 percent of truck drivers and driver/sales workers were union members or covered by union contracts.

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