During tough economic times with high unemployment, Americans should be jumping at any chance to work, but trucking companies are struggling to hire drivers.
There are as many as 200,000 job openings nationwide for long haul truckers, according to David Heller, director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Association.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also sees the demand for truckers increasing, up from the 1.5 million drivers on the road now. It expects trucking to add 330,100 jobs between 2010 and 2020, an increase of 20%.
But these positions are difficult to fill, and even harder to keep filled.
"Nobody wants to drive a truck," said Heller.
The pay isn't bad: Truckers earn a median annual wage of $37,930, which is $4,000 more than the median wage for all jobs, according to the BLS. The top 10% of truck drivers make more than $58,000 per year.
So why do so many long-haul trucking jobs remain unfilled?
First, it's difficult to get certified. The biggest hurdle for the unemployed is probably getting a commercial driver's license, which requires a training course that's up to eight weeks long and costs about $6,000.
"Drivers are put under intense scrutiny before they get into the industry, and for good reason," said Brett Aquila, trucker and creator of the blog TruckingTruth. "It's incredibly risky putting someone behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound truck with your company's name on it."
And when drivers do get on the road, they find the long-haul lifestyle isn't easy, living for weeks at a time in the cramped confines of the back of the truck.
"You have a gigantic culture shock when someone is suddenly living on the road in a space the size of a walk-in closet," said Aquila. "Then you have the pressure, the erratic sleep patterns, and the time away from home, family, and friends."
For these reasons, job turnover is high for truckers. At the same time, as the economy stages a gradual recovery, more new positions are becoming available.
"When people start to spend more money, that means there's more freight to move," said Heller. "When shelves need to be stocked, trucks start rolling. There's not a thing you own that has not been on a truck at some point."
Several of the largest long haul trucking companies in the U.S. are hiring. Schneider National, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Swift Transportation and Werner Enterprises are aggressively recruiting drivers on their web sites.
Derek Leathers, president and chief operating officer at Werner, said that his company has about 100 open long-haul truck driving positions. The current shortage of truckers has forced his company to work much harder than it used to in order to fill these positions, spending more money on advertising and additional recruiting staff.
Werner is offering a $5,000 signing bonus for its "team driver" positions, where two drivers are together in one truck, working in shifts so that the truck can cover as much as 1,000 miles a day. The company also offers paid apprenticeships to veterans, hiring 35 of them per month. Werner and other trucking outfits tend to put a lot of emphasis on recruiting military veterans, since they have GI Bill funding available to them that will pay for trucking school.
Trucking can be good work, and even highly lucrative, but it will never be an easy choice, says Leo Wilkins, an independent long-haul trucker from St. Charles, Minn., who's been driving for 40 years.
Wilkins says he can gross up to $300,000 per year. After paying for fuel, insurance, truck payments and maintenance he can clear as much as $150,000 in take-home pay, as long as he spends most of his time on the highway, living in his customized sleeper.
"I stay out on the road for six weeks at a time," he said. "In this business, you can't be running home every weekend if you're going to make money."