By Laura Raines
If you’ve ever felt the pull of the open road, this is an excellent time to consider a truck-driving career. Trucking added the most jobs of any transportation sector in February 2013, increasing its employment by 5,600 positions, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
“There is no unemployment in truck driving. In fact, there’s a shortage of drivers,” said Ed Tanksley, general manager of Katlaw Driving Schools in Austell. “Trucking slowed down at the start of the recession, but when factories start producing more goods, those goods have to be moved to consumers. Trucking usually leads a recovery.”
The demand for commercial truck drivers is expected to grow by 21 percent through 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tanksley sees that demand from the 30 companies that actively recruit his students.
“Most of our graduates have six to 10 job offers before they even finish their training,” he said. “Truck driving is one of the few careers that you can train for quickly and make $40,000 to $45,000 in the first year, with benefits.”
Metro Atlanta is a transportation hub and one of the nation’s top 10 areas for truck-driving jobs , according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To get started, you’ll need to meet the requirements and pass the test to obtain a commercial driving license permit from the Georgia Department of Driver Services . To earn a CDL permit, drivers must pass standard written and driving tests at a state examination site.
You can’t apply for a CDL if you’ve had your driving license revoked, suspended, canceled or been involved in a chargeable accident during the two-year period immediately prior to applying. Applicants will be restricted to drive in Georgia only until they are 21.
“With a permit, you can enroll for training at a private school or one of Georgia’s technical colleges,” Tanksley said. “Most insurance companies and carriers won’t hire entry-level drivers unless they’ve taken a training course.”
You can find recommended schools on the GDDS website (www.dds.ga.gov).
Approved by the Commercial Vehicle Transportation Association, Katlaw Driving Schools has been training drivers for 14 years. The most popular program is the 160-hour, three-week program in Class “A” Tractor Trailer Training. It’s also offered in an eight-weekend format. Tuition is $3,195 ($2,895, if paying in cash), and financing options are available.
The program has been approved for VA, GI Bill and Workplace Investment Act funding.
“Our classes typically take six to 12 students. We have trained a lot of career changers, retirees, former military people and business owners who want to start a second career,” Tanksley said. “About 5 (percent) to 8 percent are women. There are a lot more women in trucking these days and they do very well because they are safety-conscious and well-organized.”
Truck-driving students begin in the classroom where they learn federal regulations, record-keeping technologies, safety measures and time-management strategies. On the road, they learn how to operate 10-speed transmission vehicles; how to conduct a 96-item pre-trip checklist of a vehicle; and how to back up and park different types of trucks and trailers. They also practice driving safely at night and in inclement weather.
“Not everyone is cut out for truck driving. You need to be a self-starter and able to work with no supervision,” Tanksley said. “You also need to be comfortable being away from home and family for stretches at a time, although many regional and over-the-road companies now guarantee you’ll be home on the weekends.”
Working conditions for truckers have improved over the years, Tanksley said.
“People perceive it as a lonely, hard and dirty job,” he said.
But today’s trucks are much more comfortable and equipped with televisions and computers. Truck stops have clean showers, better restaurants and other amenities.
“You just aren’t as isolated as you used to be on the road, and more retired couples are choosing to travel together,” Tanksley said.
The industry offers opportunities for pay raises and advancement, Tanksley said.
“Salaries climb faster than in other careers,” he said. “By the third year, truck drivers should be making well into the $50,000s, and some couple teams are pulling down six figures. Some drivers choose to become owner/operators, or start their own trucking companies.”
In large, multinational transit corporations, drivers may move into warehousing, safety inspection, instruction, recruiting, or management positions.
“There’s no shortage of jobs or opportunities in transportation,” Tanksley said. “We put 375 to 400 Georgia residents to work every year.”