The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that “among the 581,000 unemployed veterans in 2020, 54% were aged 25 to 54, 41% were ages 55 and over, and 5% were ages 18 to 24.” It’s astonishing to see that a majority of veterans who are unemployed are in an age range that makes up a majority of the working class.
But why are these numbers so high? While there isn’t an exact answer, some may say it’s because veterans aren’t fully aware of how to use the numerous skillsets they’ve learned while on active duty. The New York Times published an article acknowledging that “veterans are working, but not in jobs that match their advanced training.”
Helping veterans understand all that they’re capable of is just one-way society can help reduce the statistics on veteran unemployment. This can be done by educating them on the different career paths that are complementary to their skill sets. For example, a majority of veterans possess skills that would be perfect for a career in truck driving. Truck driving is a career that isn’t for everyone, but is a perfect match for veterans who are seeking excellent benefits, a flexible work schedule, and job security.
Military Veteran Skills Valued by the Trucking Industry
Here is a non-exhaustive list of skills that some veterans possess that would make them excellent truck drivers:
- Ability to adapt;
- Awareness of surroundings;
- Logistical efficiency;
- Mental endurance;
- Respect for others;
- Sense of responsibility;
- Understanding the importance of teamwork.
Of course, those who may not possess all of these skills can easily learn them over time. There are also skills not mentioned above that are unique to a veteran that would contribute to them becoming an excellent truck driver.
Types of Truck Driving Jobs
One of the many appealing aspects of working in the trucking industry is knowing that you’re not stuck in one position. There are multiple types of truck driving positions that individuals can apply for — helping to ensure that they select a position that will highlight their skills. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of truck driving positions and what they entail.
Dry Van Trucking
Dry van trucking, also known as dry van shipping, refers to a large, rectangular-shaped trailer used to haul large loads on the highway every day. This is one of the most common types of truck driving and is often used by those who need to transport non-perishable goods like clothing, electronics, boxes, and more.
Dry van trucking is safe, and convenient, and can be used for virtually any type of trucking. One thing to remember is that there is no temperature control in dry van trucking. So this would not be a good option for those who need to transport items that require climate control like refrigerated items and perishable foods.
As of August 2021, the average salary of a dry van driver is about $53,714 annually or $26 hourly.
Flatbed trucking uses a flat trailer, rather than one that is enclosed, to haul large loads. This is a great option for those who need a commercial-grade vehicle to haul significantly large loads like lumbar, equipment, hay, and more. Because the items aren’t enclosed, the truck driver must ensure that the cargo is strapped and secure. This can be done by using numerous chains, straps, and ties. On average, a flatbed truck driver can earn about $62,4000 annually or $32 hourly in 2021.
Rather than being a type of truck, a freight hauler is the individual/company that is hired to haul freight. Freight haulers will typically use a dry van truck or flatbed to haul a load. Some freight haulers are independently contracted, while others work for a company. The price to hire a freight hauler will depend on who they’re contracted with, rates, what they’re hauling, and where they’re hauling it. As of 2021, the average annual salary for a freight hauler is about $40,000 or $19.23 hourly.
Just as it sounds, local trucking refers to a type of truck driving that is done within the boundaries of either the driver’s or the contractor’s local area. Because the haul route tends to be shorter than other types of trucking, the pay rate may be lower. Just as with most trucking jobs, pay will vary based on distance and haul type.
Less-Than-Load (LTL) Freight
Less-than-load, or LTL trucking, is a great option for those who don’t have an entire trailer’s worth of items to haul. LTL freight is typically made up of smaller items that take up little room in the trailer.
Because it isn’t optimal for a truck driver to use a large vehicle for a small load, they’ll usually fill up the trailer with multiple smaller loads — putting the one that needs to be dropped off first towards the doors/front of the trailer, and the last items towards the back. As of July 2021, LTL truck drivers make an average of $53,088 annually.
Over-the-Road (OTR) Trucking
Over-the-road trucking, also known as OTR trucking, is similar to long-haul trucking. This is because drivers haul large loads, over long distances. OTR trucking can be done using any type of truck, depending on the contents of the load itself.
Because this type of trucking requires drivers to travel long distances, it is common for drivers to be separated from their families for weeks at a time. If being away from home is something that may be an issue, then being an OTR truck driver may not be the best decision for you. Instead, LTL or local trucking may be right up your alley.
You can either drive solo or be a part of a team. When you are a part of a team, this means you’ll have another driver with you, allowing you to switch off drivers throughout the long drive. Those who are in a team will always do OTR jobs, however, not every OTR job requires a team. As of 2021, OTR drivers make on average $58,747 annually or $28.24 hourly.
Unlike dry van trucking, refrigerated (reefer) trucking can control the temperature within the freight trailer. More specifically, refrigerated trucks can haul any foods and/or products that are required to be stored at a certain temperature. Examples of items that can be found in a reefer truck include, but aren’t limited to:
- Chemicals and engineered materials;
- Consumable goods;
- Fine art and antiques;
- Personal care products;
- Tobacco products.
One of the many advantages of using a refrigerated truck to haul these items is that the temperature within the trailer can be adjusted accordingly. Be sure to research ahead of time what to set the temperature to. As of 2021, the average annual salary for a refrigerated truck driver is about $58,748 or $28 hourly.
Regional trucking is the perfect combination of local and long-distance hauling. Drivers will deliver within a particular region throughout the entirety of their haul. This is a great option for those who don’t want to travel too far from home, but also enjoy the higher pay than local delivery drivers and being on the open road. As of 2021, the average annual salary for a regional truck driver is about $60,969 or $29 hourly.
A tanker driver is responsible for transporting gas or petroleum. These extremely flammable liquids are stored in a large tank, hence the name “tanker” driver. The location for the delivery varies based on the job. For example, drivers will deliver the haul to gas stations or commercial filling sites. Because this type of cargo is more hazardous than standard trucking loads, it requires more safety protocols and skills from the driver. As of 2021, tanker drivers earned an average of $75,179 annually.
CDL Driving Programs, Certifications, and Requirements
A commercial driving license (CDL) is a type of driver’s license that is required to operate large, commercial vehicles in the United States. The type of trucking the driver will partake in will determine the type of CDL they should obtain. There are three types of CDL classes:
- Class A: Required to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, provided the towed vehicle is heavier than 10,000 pounds.
- Class B: Required to operate any single vehicle that isn’t hitched to a trailer (commercial trucks that have an attached cab and cargo area with a combined weight greater than 26,000 pounds, as well as trucks with a detached towed cargo vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds).
- Class C: Required to operate a single vehicle with GVWR of fewer than 26,001 pounds or a vehicle towing another vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds, or transports 16 or more passengers, including the driver.
Anyone interested in becoming a truck driver will be informed by their employer which type of CDL they will need and how to apply. A few requirements prospecting drivers should consider before applying for their CDL are as follows:
- Applicants must be at least 18 years of age to drive within the state and 21 years of age to drive nationwide;
- Pay the appropriate application fee;
- Provide proof of identity and residency;
- Pass a vision test and knowledge exam;
- Pass a road-skills and driving exam;
- Pay any other necessary fees associated with obtaining a CDL.
It is important to note that there may be other requirements specific to the location in which the license is being obtained. Be sure to contact your local DMV to establish what you will need to apply for a CDL in your area.
The DOT physical is mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for all commercial motor vehicle drivers. To get started, applicants must:
- Determine FMCSA registration needs and requirements;
- Complete the FMCSA application process;
- Determine state notification and registration requirements;
- Begin the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program;
- Obtain permanent USDOT registration;
- Maintain and update USDOT number and operating authority information.
Applicants are encouraged to visit the FMCSA website to learn more about the DOT physical exam and its requirements.
Those who are currently or will be hauling hazardous material must also obtain their hazmat endorsement. This is an exam taken by commercial truck drivers that will allow them to haul hazardous materials. Applicants must apply for and schedule an exam that is made up of various questions related to transporting hazardous materials.
To be eligible to obtain this endorsement, applicants must be U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, naturalized citizens, nonimmigrant aliens, asylees, or refugees who are in lawful status.
The Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) is “required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act for workers who need access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels.” This card is required for any truck driver — no matter the type — who delivers to and/or from maritime facilities and vessels, like airports. Applicants must undergo a series of tests and background checks to be granted the TWIC, as well as meet other requirements and pay any necessary fees.
Not every truck driver will need this card. Those who do deliver to these facilities that don’t obtain the TWIC will not be granted access to the facility. Applicants can visit a TWIC application center to provide any required documentation, get fingerprinted, and pay all necessary fees.
Military Skills Test Waiver Program
The Military Skills Test Waiver Program is a program that “allows drivers with two years’ experience safely operating heavy military vehicles to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) without taking the driving test (skills test).” It is available to individuals from every state. A requirement for this program includes being employed within the past year in a military position that required the operation of a military vehicle.
Even Exchange Program (Knowledge Test Waiver)
The Even Exchange Program, also known as the knowledge test waiver, is a program that “allows qualified military drivers to be exempt from the knowledge test for obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL).” Combined with the Military Skills Test Waiver Program, veterans can enter the Even Exchange Program to forgo both the knowledge and the skills test to exchange their military license for a CDL.
However, not every veteran can apply for this program. Only those who were in the following military positions are eligible:
- U.S. Army:
- 88M – Motor Transport Operator;
- 92F – Fueler;
- 14T – Patriot Launching Station Operator;
- U.S. Marine Corps:
- 3531 – Motor Vehicle Operator;
- U.S. Navy:
- EO – Equipment Operator;
- U.S. Air Force:
- 2TI – Vehicle Operator;
- 2FO – Fueler;
- 3E2 – Pavement and Construction Equipment Operator.
It’s also important to note that not every state has implemented this program. Reach out to your local DMV to see whether or not the state you wish to obtain a CDL in offers these programs.
Under 21 Military CDL Pilot Program
Veterans under the age of 21 who aren’t sure whether or not a career in trucking is right for them can apply for the Under 21 Military CDL Pilot Program. This is a ride-along program for veterans ages 18, 19, or 20 who have an interest in commercial driving. While a CDL is not needed for this program, a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) is. The CLP is earned after applicants have successfully studied the CDL requirements, completed their medical exam, and completed their knowledge exam.
Additional information regarding the Under 21 Program states that applicants must:
- Have certification from military service of relevant training and experience driving heavy vehicles;
- Agree to release specific information to FMCSA for the program;
- Meet all Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation requirements.
Because this is solely a pilot program, those enrolled will not have the ability to transport passengers or hazardous materials. Enrollees will also have limited access to the types of trucks/hauls they will be eligible to drive.
Becoming a truck driver entails more than just obtaining the necessary certifications and a CDL. Prospective drivers must also acquire the proper education. This can be done by enrolling in a school that offers truck driving education.
Choosing a Truck Driving School
Similar to looking for colleges and universities, veterans who want to enroll in truck driving courses should apply for ones that offer a variety of benefits. When looking for truck driving schools to apply for, veterans should consider the curriculum offered. Specifically, they will want to pay attention to hands-on experience like the number of hours required behind the wheel, a healthy student-to-instructor ratio, use of up-to-date equipment, and whether they will be successful at job placement upon graduation.
Financial Programs for Veterans Paying for Truck Driving School
Another benefit to be mindful of when searching for schools is looking for one that accepts various forms of financial assistance. Listed below are a few different types of financial assistance programs that veterans may want to consider to pay for their education.
Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)
The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) “provides up to 36 months of education benefits to eligible service members and veterans for programs such as college, business, technical, or vocational school, apprenticeship/on-the-job training, correspondence courses, remedial, deficiency, refresher training, and flight training.” This bill is available to:
- Regular Army: active duty;
- Regular Army: retired;
- Army National Guard: active duty under Title 10 USC or Title 32 USC (full-time National Guard duty);
- Army National Guard: state active duty;
- Army National Guard: drilling;
- Army National Guard: retired;
- Army Reserve: active duty;
- Army Reserve: drilling;
- Army Reserve: retired.
To apply for the Montgomery GI Bill, applicants will need:
- Bank account direct deposit information;
- Education history;
- Information about the school/training facility they’re applying to;
- Military history;
- Their Social Security Number (SSN).
Applicants are encouraged to reach out to their local VA office to ensure they qualify for GI benefits before applying. Applicants who are a part of the reserves of any military branch are also eligible for the MGIB benefits. These benefits are known as the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) benefits.
Post 9/11 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 GI Bill (chapter 33) helps veterans pay for schooling and/or job training. Only those who have served on active duty in the military after September 10, 2001, are eligible for this bill. Veterans who choose to use this bill can receive up to 36 months of benefits including:
- Money for housing;
- Money for supplies and books;
- Tuition and fees.
The amount awarded varies based on how much active service you’ve had since September 10, 2001. If your service ended before January 1, 2013, then you have 15 years after your last separation from the service date to use your benefits. However, if your service ended on or after January 1, 2013, then your benefits will not expire due to the law regarding the Forever GI Bill. It is also important to note that once this option is selected, you can’t change your mind.
Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
The Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) is “a VA education benefit program designed to provide educational assistance to members of the Reserve components called or ordered to active duty in response to a war or national emergency (contingency operation) as declared by the President or Congress.” Assistance amount can range from $797.60 to $1,595.20 — the longer you were in active reserve, the more you’ll get to apply towards your education.
This program is unable to be combined with other education financial assistance programs offered by the VA.
Department of Labor Apprenticeship Program
The Department of Labor Apprenticeship Program is a program that “administers federal government job training and worker dislocation programs, federal grants to states for public employment service programs, and unemployment insurance benefits.” The purpose of this program is to provide individuals with adequate job training and income maintenance services paid for primarily by the state. It is intended to help provide equal opportunities for employment for individuals throughout the United States, including veterans.
Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program
Veterans who pay for tuition out-of-pocket can get up to 100% of what they paid reimbursed via the Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program. However, the only way to get reimbursed is if your college tuition costs more than what’s covered by any other VA program and requires the remaining amount to be paid out-of-pocket. The reimbursement percentage will vary based on the type of benefit that was used to pay for tuition in the first place.
Starting Your Own Trucking Company
Just as with most industries, you have the option to start your own trucking company if you want to. However, like with most companies, there is a lot that goes into starting your own trucking company. Aside from obtaining the education, certifications, and licenses mentioned above, veterans wanting to start their own company should consider the following advice listed below.
The process of starting and driving for your own trucking company is referred to as becoming an owner-operator. Not only is the truck driver responsible for delivering freight, but they’re also responsible for handling the day-to-day responsibilities that come along with running your own business.
LLCs and EINs
A limited liability company, popularly known as an LLC, is a business structure that “offers the personal liability protection of a corporation with pass-through taxation of a sole proprietorship or partnership.” Forming an LLC is a great option for beginner entrepreneurs who want to start their own business while ensuring their assets are protected. There are six steps to follow to start an LLC:
- Select the state in which your LLC will be formed;
- Name your LLC;
- Select a registered agent;
- File the articles of organization;
- Create an operating agent;
- Get an EIN.
Business Licenses and Permits
Most businesses require an array of licenses and permits to begin operations, the same goes for veterans who want to start their own trucking company. Visiting the Department of Transportation’s website will allow you to learn about different truck driving laws and see which permits are needed to start your own trucking company, including having the ability to haul oversized and overweight loads. Permit types will vary based on location and the size of the truck/load being hauled.
Insuring your trucking company is a must for many reasons. Not only is it a requirement by law, but it also helps to protect you, your company, and your physical assets (like your truck). Numerous companies offer owner-operator insurance for trucking companies. It is up to the business owner to research the different companies to find one that offers the best coverage at the best price.
Not everyone will choose to hire a team of drivers, which is fine. However, if you do, then you will want to be sure to hire individuals who are capable of succeeding in their roles. Aside from the basic qualities of a good employee, you will want to hire drivers who are:
- Qualified in every sense (have the right skills, certifications, licenses, and permits);
- Aware of the sometimes-strenuous work schedule;
- Reliable and self-dependent;
- Able to confidently drive in any weather condition.
One way to ensure you hire a team full of capable individuals is by honing in on your job marketing skills. Create job advertisements that highlight the benefits of working with your company — be clear from the beginning about the expectations that should be met as a driver on your team. Hiring capable employees can also help protect them and improve their safety.
Expanding Your Business
Before finalizing your business plans, you will want to discuss whether or not your business will be local to your area or nationwide. This includes establishing where your truck will deliver to — either local, regional, or nationwide — as well as where the physical office will be located (one storefront or multiple nationwide).
Obtaining More Trucks
There are a few things to consider before expanding your fleet. Think about what you’ll use the new trucks for — from there, you can determine the size and type of trailer you’ll need. Once you’ve established what you’ll be using it for, you should research your current financial state — can you afford to purchase a new truck? Calculate your variable costs associated with purchasing and maintaining a new vehicle.
Organizing finances is one of the biggest steps in obtaining more trucks. Not only do you need to be sure that you can afford it, but you will also want to be sure you can maintain it. This includes repairs, updates, insurance, and manning the truck. This is why it’s crucial to accurately track your expenses throughout the year.
Fleet Management Software
No matter if you have a large fleet or a small fleet, investing in software to help manage your loads is crucial to running a successful trucking business. Route planning software can help you get the most out of your route planning and stay ahead of schedule. This software can also give you access to fleet performance data that you can then use to improve your business operations. Fleet/route optimization software can help drivers:
- Access dispatch;
- Get customer notifications in real time;
- Manage orders;
- Measure analytics;
- Organize arrivals and departures;
- Plan routes;
- Report and analyze fleet data;
- Track trucks in your fleet using GPS.
When choosing route management software, be sure to purchase one from a reputable company and do your research around the differences between planning and optimizing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to be sure they truly offer what you’re looking for. It can save you time and money in the end.
Funding Your Trucking Company
Of course, with starting your own company comes an abundance of start-up costs. This includes funding registration and documentation costs, equipment, IRP plates, permits, taxes, fixed and variable expenses, and more. All of these expenses can add up fast, which is why it’s best to prepare ahead of time. Let’s take a look at a few ways veterans can fund their trucking companies.
The SBA loan is a loan offered by the Small Business Administration that is used to cover a variety of costs associated with starting a business. There are a series of steps to take to apply for an SBA loan including, but not limited to:
- Completing an SBA loan application form;
- Completing a personal background check and providing a personal financial statement;
- Providing a profit and loss statement;
- Providing a projected financial statement;
- Creating a list of names and addresses of subsidiaries and affiliates;
- Obtaining all necessary permits, certifications, and licenses;
- Providing a loan history;
- Obtaining both personal and business tax statements.
To be eligible for an SBA loan, your business must operate for profit, be located in the United States, have reasonable owner equity to invest, and utilize alternative financial resources before applying for the SBA loan.
Small Business Grants
Unlike loans, grants are government funding that does not have to be paid back. This is a great option for first-time business owners who need additional funding to start up their trucking company. Here is a list of grants veterans can apply for to help fund their trucking business:
- FedEx Small Business Grant;
- Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Grants;
- NASE Growth Grant;
- Nav Small Business Loan;
- USDA Rural Business Development Grants.
No matter the grant you’re applying for, you will want to research each thoroughly to ensure you are eligible.
Networking is essential for a successful career for many reasons. It allows you to speak with like-minded individuals and learn more about your industry. Networking as a truck driver can help build connections with other drivers who understand how it can be on the road alone.
Because being a truck driver requires you to work taboo hours, for weeks on end, it can be difficult attending in-person networking events. This is why social media is one of the best ways to connect as a truck driver. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter are just a few popular social media sites frequented by truck drivers.
Additional Veteran Resources
There are many resources available to veterans that assist with many areas. In the meantime, let’s take a look at a few resources veterans can use to aid them in starting a career in trucking.
- National Military Family Association (NMFA): The National Military Family Association (NMFA) provides families of military personnel with support and resources to help them while their loved one is serving. It is their mission to “stand up for, support, and enhance the quality of life for every military family through bold advocacy, innovative programming, and dynamic and responsive solutions.”
- Special Vocational Training (SVT): Special Vocational Training (SVT) is a program available for veterans who are eligible for Dependents’ Educational Assistance (chapter 35) benefits. More specifically, this is a program intended for dependents of veterans. There are quite a few SVT eligibility requirements applicants must abide by to apply. For instance, applicants should be a child of a veteran who died from a service-connected disability or a child of a veteran who has a total disability resulting from a service-related incident. Dependents of veterans should review them before ensuring they’re eligible for this program.
- Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program (DEA): Similar to the SVT program, the Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program (DEA) is “for dependents (child or a spouse) of a veteran or service member who has died, is captured or missing, or has disabilities…” This government-funded program helps eligible individuals pay for school or job training.
For more information, you can contact your local VA office to see what programs you’re eligible for.
Additional Trucking Resources
Let’s take a look at additional resources truckers can use throughout their career.
- American Trucking Association: The American Trucking Association is an online resource those in the trucking industry can utilize to connect with other truckers. They also host events, create programs, and advocate for those in the industry.
- Freight Relocators: Freight Relocators is an online forum that allows those in the trucking industry to get updates and communicate with each other.
- Overdrive: Overdrive is a useful resource that provides users with news and updates about the trucking industry.
- Truck News: Truck News is another website that gives truckers real-time industry updates.
- Women In Trucking: Women In Trucking is an online community that unites women in the trucking industry.
No matter what type of truck you choose to drive and where you drive it, as a veteran, you possess a unique set of skills that are perfect for the trucking industry. It’s a great career that would be perfect for veterans who strive for job security.