I spend a lot of time trying to help people understand how to succeed at Trucking. Goodness, just a brief little bit of research online into this career will make you realize that a lot of people are not doing very well as truck drivers. It is a much misunderstood career. People hear about how you can make some big money at this, then they see a few of those misleading ads on the back of semi-trailers and they go jumping in completely unprepared for what they are about to get into. From what I can gather there is approximately 5% of the new entrants into this career who go on to be successful at it. That's pretty bad statistics.
Many of the larger trucking companies have instituted their own training programs to help people obtain a CDL and get started in the career simply because they need drivers. It seems they have a slightly little better chance at keeping a driver whom they've trained from the very beginning, but it is a costly endeavor.
The big problem with truck driving is that it is so demanding. There are long hours. There is the separation from your family. There is the sometimes surprising reality of being all alone out here. A new truck driver seldom is accustomed to having a job with so little supervision. New truck drivers learn very quickly the results of their own decisions, and they usually regret their own choices when something goes south for them. It is a whole lot easier to have a job where you have a foreman who tells you to take that stack of materials over there and re-stack it over in that other building on the south end of the property. Anybody can handle that. It is specific, and it is easy. Having clear cut directions and objectives makes a job easy to do. But... what if your foreman allowed you to make more money by taking your own initiative and getting more things accomplished by using your own head?
I was once on a construction site when I was in the sign business, and I heard a foreman telling a common laborer on the job some things he wanted him to do. The young fellow was kind of complaining and wanting to know why didn't the foreman just have some of those other guys do that particular task. The foreman kind of squared off with the recalcitrant helper and looked him in the eyes as he made this statement, "Young man they hired me from the neck up, I'm supposed to be using my head out here to get something done. You were hired from the neck down, and I need you to start using the strength of your young body to accomplish the things that I need to get done - Is that clear enough?"
Just the other day I was having a discussion over at Trucking Truth with a person who just doesn't seem to get this whole adventurous lifestyle thing that we call "Trucking." He seemed to think that trucking is going to be so easy. You just have your directions from the dispatcher, you follow them and show up so they can unload you, then you rinse and repeat. He was so worried about what he was going to occupy himself with during all those long hours of just cruising peacefully down the road. He foolishly assumes that he is going to be bored. I tried to break it down for him just a little, and one of the things I mentioned was you will be needing to spend some time communicating with your customers so that you can move your appointment times up. He scoffed at my suggestion stating he was pretty sure the dispatcher will have all his appointments set and he will just follow the directions in the paperwork they give him.
Well, yes you can do that if you like, and you may end up being one of those people who were just hired from "the neck down." One of the keys to making money in the trucking business is efficiency. That is as true for the larger corporate picture as it is for the individual driver. I make a practice of moving my appointments - it is a big part of why I am considered one of the top drivers in my fleet. If one wants to turn some big miles consistently, and have dispatch trusting them fully to be able to handle what ever they have to dish out, then they have got to establish a track record of "gittin er done."
Here's an example of what I did on this last load to give you a picture of how this works to your advantage. I picked this load up late on Friday night in Cressona, Pennsylvania. It had three stops in Florida. Here's how they lined up in consecutive order according to the paper work...
✔ Thomas & Betts in Ormond, Beach Florida (appointment at 0800 Monday)
✔ TW Metals in Orlando, Florida (appointment at 1100 Monday)
✔ Alro Metals in Orlando, Florida (appointment at 0800 Tuesday)
Well, my first impression with my appointments is, "That doesn't look very efficient. I should be able to get all three of those stops done in a single day if I am ready to go at that first stop and have hours available to me to work a full day."
Here is where the problem lies. My third and final stop at Alro Metals has a cut off time for the receiving department of twelve o'clock - noon! Actually the latest appointment they will give you is eleven a.m. If you have an eleven o'clock appointment and you are running late, they will not take you past twelve o'clock. Well, I don't like this whole scenario, and I am convinced I can remedy it. But wait... the paper work also states that at Alro Metals you have got to make an appointment 48 hours in advance! So, the average person who was hired from the neck down says, "Well, I will just take my time on this one, there is no way to get around it."
People, we make money by moving freight. Sitting and waiting is one of the biggest complaints I see when people are posting on line about their frustrations with this career. I do everything I can to keep myself moving. I got everything delivered on this load by Monday afternoon at 1400 - that is two p.m., and then I was able to knock off another 200 miles toward my getting back to Delhi a day earlier than my dispatcher was expecting me. When I sent in my MT (empty) call my phone started ringing. It was my dispatcher of course, and the following conversation ensued...
Dispatcher, "Are you serious? You are already empty?"
Driver, "Yes sir, I will be back a day early."
Dispatcher, "That is so awesome dude, how did you pull this one off?
Driver, "Well, I just took a chance and first thing Monday morning I called Alro to see if they could move my appointment to ten o'clock on Monday. After looking at their schedule they said that would work. Then I called TW Metals and told them I was running just a little bit late, and I needed to see if they could receive me at about 1300 (1:00 p.m.) They said no problem. With the way my truck was loaded I could get Alro's material off without affecting TW's materials so I just flipflopped my schedule and did Alro second and TW third."
Dispatcher, "Thanks for letting me know, this is really great. Now I can get you updated in our system and get you planned for you next load a full day ahead of what we had planned."
That is how you put your career into Overdrive. You take some initiative out here, and you always do what you say. You try to be that guy who was hired from the neck up. We actually have customers up in the Northeast who request me to be the driver on their loads. They have come to know that I will be there at the time agreed upon, and they appreciate that. My dispatcher knows that he can count on me, in fact he ended that little conversation with this statement, "Dale, I wouldn't have expected anything less from you, but it still is a surprise. I don't know of another driver in our fleet that would have thought to do what you just pulled off."