So, you’ve just finished trucking school. It’s time to celebrate!  Getting your Class A CDL is exciting, and a great accomplishment. You  have learned a lot about the world of trucking—and trucks—and how to  operate and maneuver these huge vehicles.

Your trucking career awaits. Now, all you have to do is put your foot on the gas—literally and figuratively.

But,  what you might not quite realize is that you are not just beginning  your career. You are entering a second kind of trucking school. It’s  called “the first year in trucking,” and it’s just as demanding as that  CDL curriculum

Getting Into Gear Your First Year

Experienced  truckers describe this first year as everything from “a big challenge,”  to “definitely tough.” Says one trucker, “Your first year as a truck  driver is going to be the hardest one.” Or, as another veteran puts it,  “Your first year in trucking will make or break you.”

But this is  no time to panic. Nor is anyone, least of all veteran truckers out  there, trying to discourage you. It’s just that the more you know what  to expect your first year in trucking, the better you will get through  that year.

Luckily, experienced truckers have plenty of advice to share about the first year.

A Great First Year Equals A Great Career: 10 Tips

1. Get as much driving experience as you can, as soon as you can.  You may be driving difficult routes made even more difficult because  you’re a rookie. But keep driving, driving, driving. Truckers will tell  you that the more experience you have, the more work you’ll get, the  more money you’ll make—and the more relaxed you will become.

2. Expect to be assigned to a driver trainer.  This is true for many first-year truckers, so you need to be prepared  for it, and you need to make it work. Sharing a rig with another person  is hard, not to mention awkward (especially if the trucker and driver  trainer are male and female) Just remind yourself this will not last  forever. Make the best of it—and learn from that trainer’s experience.

3. Learn to live cheap—for now.  Your wages will be low for your first gigs, and living on the road can  get pretty pricey if you don’t watch it. So, get a cooler, bring your  own food, avoid eating at truck stops. It adds up faster than you can  imagine.

4. Do not. Do not. Get into an accident.  It’s a fact of first-year trucking that accidents are common. “That’s  really just inexperience,” says James Fairbank, a veteran truck driver  and now Director of Education at the National Tractor Trailer School in  Liverpool, N.Y. He adds that new truckers “are really pressured out  there just to get things done, not take up time, they’re worried about  being in people’s way, where to park, and it can be overwhelming. Learn  to slow down, take a deep breath and relax.”

Still, accidents are  expensive, they stain your driving record, and shake your  self-confidence. So, surviving this first-year accident-free will pay  huge dividends. Also, many accidents and mishaps are preventable.

One trucker offers his “G.O.A.L.” advice when it comes to avoiding accidents. Most  often, these occur when you’re backing up into a new customer location  or other unfamiliar tight spots: “Get Out And Look.”

Look at all  angles, and don’t rely on a spotter, who may not understand the  intricacies of backing up a huge, uber-long vehicle. Learn to avoid  these and other kinds of rookie mistakes and make it to that first-year  finish line free of accidents.

5. Take care of yourself.  Trucking is physically and mentally challenging. You’ll see a lot of  articles and YouTube videos reminding you to get out of that truck as  often as possible and get some physical exercise; to listen to iPods,  books on tape, or radio programs. Depression is not uncommon among  truckers; this is one way to help deflect it.

6. Do what it takes to stay in touch with family and friends.  As Fairbank noted, adjusting to this new lifestyle “is the biggest  learning curve.” Regular contact with family and friends is the best  goal, and it’s easy to do.

You have Bluetooth technology that  allows hands-free telephone calls. You have the internet at truck  stops—and some, though not all, rest stops—to use for social media or  video messaging. A conversation face-to-face, even via computer or cell  phone screen, can refresh you more than you can imagine.

A  related hint regarding family life, one trucker recommends: When you get  home, you may just want to sleep a lot. Sure, you need catch-up sleep,  but avoid the temptation to just slug it until you leave again. Get back  into your family life as much as possible. Making your short time home  larger than life goes a long way to extending your presence after you  leave for your next haul.

7. Don’t “job hop.”  It’s natural for younger folks to look for the greener grass during that  first year. Avoid that temptation. It looks bad on your record: Who  wants to hire someone who may jump ship right after you spend time and  money training them, right? You need to establish a credible time of  service record. The greener pastures will come soon enough.

Fairbank  also advises new truckers to find out what companies offer support, and  which ones just throw you the keys and send you on your way. The former  is preferable, obviously.

8. Find an employer close to home.  If you’re an OTR trucker, one veteran driver advises you to find a  trucking company that has a terminal located as close to your home as  possible. That will allow you to get home between loads more often. If  you do find such a terminal, this trucker also advises keeping a car  parked there, so you can dash off home right away and use that down time  for family time.

9. Consider finding mentors. As one trucker has note,  “Experienced drivers can be a wealth of knowledge. By finding a few  that you can trust to tell it to you straight, you stand to gain a lot.  As you earn experience you can bounce ‘what ifs’ off of them, to see how  they would handle different situations.” But, he cautions, remember  that “not every experienced driver can be a mentor. … Be selective of  whom you take advice from.”

10. When all else fails, just let it go.  This is advice anyone can use, especially truckers. Just as you’ve  likely been told not to let those crazy drivers on the road get to you,  since they never will change, there are other things you’ll need to  learn to take in stride.

As one trucker shares:  “You can’t let things get to you. Just take things as they come. …  Somebody cuts me off? Whatever. Customer makes me wait 13 hours to get  loaded? Great, I’ll get some sleep and write a blog! Truck breaks down?  Excellent, I’ll order myself a pizza at the hotel room my company is  paying for! … There are two kinds of truck drivers out here …, the  kind that say, ‘That isn’t fair’ over and over. … And the kind that  make the best of situations and let things go.”

Remember: You’re a Rookie

One final, practical bit of advice:

Don’t expect too much.  During that first year as a trucker, don’t expect high pay, easy loads,  easy driving, or much family time. The first three of these change  after that first year. The latter, limited family time, doesn’t change  unless you switch to regional or shorter dedicated routes, among other  options.

No, this first year is all about adjusting to what  truckers know. It is more than a new job—it’s a new lifestyle. Trucking,  primarily OTR trucking, has been compared by some to life in the  military, or working on oil rigs.

It makes sense, when you think  about it. Trucking companies aren’t going to automatically give you  higher wages until they see what you can do. The same applies to  dispatchers. If they don’t know you, or what you can do, they’ll assign  you the less attractive loads—or, as one trucker says, the “shi—y”  loads.

“You’re the new guy, a green horn, wet-behind-the-ears,”  he says. “You’re going to be given loads that you’re not going to be  happy with. Your mileage will not be up to par … They’re still seeing  how well you do.”

Fairbank, who also was a dispatcher for a major company, says it’s not always a case of seniority with load-allocation.

When  assigning loads for a major trucking company, “we had over 100  variables to consider. For new drivers who are unaware of this, it can  seem random and arbitrary. They think, ‘My dispatcher is trying to mess  me over,’ but often, that is not the case.”

Fairbank recommends  communicating more with dispatchers. For instance, let them know not  just the day you need to be back home, but the time of day as well. In  addition, he says, “be cooperative with your dispatcher. If there’s an  issue, you need to address it.”

So, learn as you go, and don’t  panic. Right after finishing his first year, one trucker advised, “be  patient, work hard, don’t give up … and everything will work out.”

As  proof of that, he shared that he had been able to pay off his trucking  school debt because he had “learned how to make money, learned what to  look for in a company … learned about the trucking business and how  everything works.

“It’s just about applying yourself.”

It’s A Wonderful Life

Again,  the above list is not meant to discourage you from the trucking career.  The same truckers who contribute this advice also describe why they  love the job:

  • A good living. If you play your cards right  and follow the rules, you can make up to $40,000 a year—with benefits—as  a rookie. Veterans can make from about $60,000 to $80,000 a year, and  many make more than that. That’s a nice lifestyle, and a nice way to  provide for your family.
  • The independence. There’s nothing  quite like that feeling of freedom when you’re out on the road on your  own, with no boss or irritating co-workers offering their two cents  worth on whatever comes up.
  • As TruckerMike describes it:  “Getting to see it all.” After traveling to every state in the lower 48  other than North Dakota, he has this to share:  “One of the main reasons I got into truck driving was to see as much of  this country as possible…. I’ve seen a lot. From the most congested  areas in New York, to the most remote areas of Montana. From the Pacific  to the Atlantic (and the Gulf of Mexico, too!) From seal level to over  11,000 feet above sea level. From desert sand to several feet of snow.  From slums to the Vegas strip. … In just one year, I’ve seen more of  this country than most people see in their entire lifetime. … Very few  careers give people the opportunity to see so much.”

Well, we can’t improve on that. Have a great first year, truckers, and a great career!

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