The trucking industry is hurting for truck drivers, yet men and women under 21 still have a tough time finding trucking jobs. Why are companies so unwilling to hire 18 to 20 year olds? Where should you look if you don’t want to wait until your 21st birthday to start driving?
Let’s start by answering some basic questions, then dig into where to spend your job search time.
- What you legally can and can’t do if you’re 18 to 20.
- Why you probably won’t be hired for many positions you can legally fill.
- Trucking jobs you actually have a great chance of landing.
What Truck Drivers Under 21 Can’t Do
For starters, 18 is the minimum age to receive a commercial driver’s license. You can drive a semi, deliver freight and earn a great living, but there are things you can’t do until you’re 21.
- Interstate trucking is completely off limits.
- You can’t even haul interstate loads within your state.
- Hazardous materials is also out of the question. The FMCSA set a minimum age of 21 for hazmat endorsements.
- Hauling passengers could also be an issue. Check with your state’s Motor Carrier Enforcement.
I’ll explain the interstate rule a little further. If the load begins or ends out of state, a driver under 21 can’t touch it. It’s interstate freight.
Say a load originates in St. Paul Minnesota for delivery in Madison Wisconsin. A CDL holder under 21 would not be allowed to hook up to that load in Hudson Wisconsin and deliver it in Madison. And that driver never left Wisconsin.
Why Companies Won’t Hire You, Even If They Can
Okay, so you can’t go over the road and see the country until you’re 21. There are plenty of local and regional trucking jobs to apply for. Those jobs are intrastate, meaning the load is purely in-state.
Any company can legally fill these jobs with drivers under 21, but they won’t.
There are several reasons the big and medium companies don’t hire younger drives, even with the shortage of qualified applicants. The biggest reason is insurance.
The cost of insurance is nearly as big of a problem as finding qualified drivers, and it’s only getting worse. Nearly all of the larger companies require a driver to be 21, 23, or even 25.
As big as the insurance issue is, it’s not the only reason your age is such an issue. Safety and contract obligations also come into play.
Contracts with shippers are another problem. When big companies move local or intrastate freight (loads that begin and end in the same state), they’re doing it under contract. Those contracts are competitive, but cost isn’t the only factor. Safety is huge.
The customer may very well turn down a bid based on the use of younger drivers.
All is not lost. There are niches within the industry that a younger driver can serve, make a great income and be more marketable than most when that 21st birthday rolls around.
Seriously, this isn’t a bad gig. It could even be a part-time gig around a school schedule. The trips are usually short and in town, but that would really depend on where you live.
Most furniture retailers use straight trucks rather than semi-trailers. In fact, many of these trucks have a GVWR of 26,000 lbs or less. These lighter trucks are still commercial vehicles but don’t necessarily require a CDL. Double-check with your state DOT, but you’ll most likely need a medical card.
Along with some time behind the wheel, this job really has more to offer than you realize. There’s a host of things here that would look good on a resume should you decide to move on at 21.
- You’re not afraid of hard work. You’ve been moving furniture.
- Navigating a truck into tight places isn’t a problem for you. If you can do it in a straight truck, you can do it in a semi.
- You’ve been trained and know how to lift and move large things without hurting yourself or damaging the product.
- Furniture is usually delivered by 2 or more people. Knowing when to ask for help and working as a team are marketable skills.
- Delivering furniture means customer interaction. Knowing how to handle yourself with any kind of customer base is resume-worthy stuff.
- According to JOC.com, 2018 driver turnover rates varied by a quarter in 2018. The lowest was 78% and the highest was 98%. Stick with that furniture gig for 2 years or more and you’ll be ahead of a lot of competition at 21.
Most companies have some kind of training. Worker’s Comp coverage is a big expense for any employer and furniture companies are no different. Because of this, they have more tools and training than most industries when it comes to moving large and heavy objects safely.
Don’t overlook appliance delivery. Everything above still applies with this one.
Towing And Recovery
Again, there may be some state laws that could exclude younger drivers, but towing and recovery is a great place to learn. I actually worked in this industry back in the 70s.
Although there have been many changes in equipment through the years, the basic job is still to recover wrecked vehicles and clear the scene of the accident.
In fact, back when I was behind the wheel of a 1-ton dually wrecker, a push broom was required by law.
The companies with heavy-duty wreckers that handle truck accidents might not put you behind the wheel of their biggest rig, but they may let you get your foot in the door. Servicing trucks and helping with recoveries is still great training.
Accidents Aren’t The Only Reason Cars Are Towed.
Towing companies do more than clean up after a fender bender. Many companies also have contracts to utilize their equipment with a little more predictability. They may own a wide variety of trucks and trailers to handle different demands. In fact, they may even own an impound lot.
Cars, trucks and motorcycles are often impounded after an arrest. These are quick and easy recoveries since the vehicle is usually undamaged. Secure the car, haul it to the appropriate impound and your job is done.
Banks have trained personel to deal with customers when it comes to repossessions. What they don’t have are tow trucks. A bank employee may meet you at the recovery point or drive the recovered car to a nearby location and have you pick it up from there.
Despite what you see on “reality” TV, most people who are a few months behind on their vehicle payments are actually relieved to have the repossession part of the experience behind them. They just want to get on with their lives.
Tip: If you are able to hire on with a towing and recovery company, always sleep with your phone on. Be the one who’s always there for that 3 a.m. phone call. Soon the day will come when it’s a simple recovery, and they decide you’re trustworthy enough to let you go after it on your own so they can go back to sleep.
Beverage distribution is also a great place to start. Yes, even some beer distributors will hire route drivers under 21.
I’m sure there are a few states that may have age limits, but we do have a beer-hauling expert on staff at Podcasting After Hours.
We call my co-host Don The Beer Guy for a reason, He’s been running a beer route for several years. These jobs aren’t just places to start. They can also be a great place to stay for years, and many have 4-day work weeks.
Beverage routes almost always include stocking shelves, rotating stock and hauling beer kegs in and out of bars and restaurants. It’s hard work, but good pay and 3-day weekends come with a price.
Non-alcoholic beverage distributors are also a great way to learn, but most run 5 days a week. My observations seem to tell me the soft drink distributors tend to go through drivers a lot more rapidly than the beer industry.
Although food distributors generally call on many of the same customers, they tend to be larger companies and shy away from drivers under 21. Remember, it’s always worth asking.
Whether it’s a semi-truck and trailer or a 1-ton dually, there’s an art to moving livestock. There’s also an abundance of intrastate moves that a driver under 21 can legally perform. It’s dirty work, but it’s rewarding.
This is also an industry facing some serious driver shortage issues because of the new EOBR laws. If you’re not afraid of work, you can rack up some miles and cash in this industry.
Livestock auctions are full of trucks, big and small. Many of these trucks made several stops at different farms to pick up the animals. Likewise, several trucks will repeat the process and deliver the fresh purchases to their new homes.
Cows, calves, pigs, even sheep and goats go through livestock auctions every week. Although a few farmers haul their own, most trust one or two haulers to handle the task.
This is an industry that will require you to prove yourself, but it’s easier than one might think to get the chance. But keep in mind, there’s more to getting the job done than just driving.
When you hit the road, you don’t stop. Winter or summer, you need air going through that trailer full of animals. Obviously, the air cools them when it’s hot. Like people, overheating livestock of any kind can have deadly consequences.
Freezing temperatures bring about a different problem. Should you stop for more than a short time, the steamy breath of the animals will condense on the inside of the trailer’s roof. Due to the body heat the animals produce, the moisture will not freeze. Instead, it will drip on the animals. Wet animals are a problem.
Sharp turns and sudden stops are another issue. First, should you cause an event that forces your live cargo to pile on top of each other, guess who’s going into the trailer to spread them out again?
Your other risk is much like a tanker. When all your freight shifts to one side, it can tip your rig over.
Clean trailers are critical. Livestock trailers need to be cleaned regularly. Unlike most trailers, this involves a shovel, power washer and a good sterilizer.
Like most of the jobs on the list, some geographical areas are better than others, but dump trucks are everywhere. Most make short trips and never cross a state line. Many also run day and night.
Again, the driver shortage is your friend when it comes to operating a dump truck. It’s just a matter of finding who’s willing to give you a chance.
If you live anywhere near a silica sand or frac sand facility, you probably see dozens of trucks going in and out daily, even 24/7. Given the chance, it shouldn’t take long to prove yourself.
Again, the bigger companies answer to contracts, but it’s worth asking. A smaller company is more likely to take you on. Drivers are tough to come by, trained or untrained.
Roll-tops look like a regular dry van, but without a roof. Instead, they have a heavy-duty tarp that rolls open from one side to the other. The product usually loads from the top by a large payloader, then unloads through the rear doors.
Author’s Note: The white and blue Peterbilt pictured above is pulling a roll top trailer. I ran this truck for about 3 years. The trailer is being loaded with cedar bark in International Falls, MN, September 2001.
I’ve used these trailers to haul wood chips, yard mulch and dairy bedding. I’ve seen them haul trash, cotton, even garbage. Again, a lot of these loads never leave the state. They’re also easy to spot. Just look for the soft roof and its hardware.
One side benefit of these types of jobs is the opportunity to run some heavy equipment. I’ve hauled out of several mills that provide a payloader, but no operator. I’d scale in, load my own trailer and scale out.
Again, you could find a 24-hour operation or a longer haul that required a night out. It just depends on what you find and the size of the state you are in.
Home Improvement And Construction Supply Stores
We’ll tackle the home improvement stores first. Many of the larger stores contract out for home and job site delivery. The store isn’t doing the hiring here. Someone else owns the trucks and does all the hiring.
Smaller lumber yards and construction supply stores could easily have you driving part-time and working in the yard the rest of the time. Again, if you’re a part-time student, this could be a great gig.
This job could be a great learning experience. Big trucks, gooseneck trailers and several other pieces of equipment could be involved. Since there’s a lot of flatbed work, you’ll soon become a master at load securement.
Do You Live Near Oil Fields?
Like many other industries, the oil companies depend on contract carriers for their trucking needs. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s trucking, it pays well and many companies hire drivers under 21. Some even offer training.
Many of these jobs use dually pickups and gooseneck trailers, your typical hotshot setup. It’s probably not home every night stuff, but it’s trucking.
I’ve known several drivers who operated everything from passenger busses to duallies with gooseneck trailers right out of high school. Most found work closer to home after their 21st birthday, but they went in with experience.
Thinking Outside Of The Box
The best jobs are going to take a little digging on your part. Pay attention to what’s moving around your town or city. As you watch, ask yourself a few questions.
- Are the trucks back every night?
- Is their equipment void of hazmat signage?
- Does it look like there’s more to the job than just driving?
- Does it look like a small company?
Remember, smaller companies struggle with the cost of offering benefits like the larger fleets have. Since you’re under 21, you’re able to stay on your parent’s health insurance, or just be a whole lot less expensive than a 40-year-old with a family.
You don’t need a fancy resume here. Just find a few of these companies and drop in. Wear clean work clothes and go meet some people.
Also, let friends and family know you’re looking. You never know who they are friends with. In fact, one of the best trucking jobs I had came from a referral from an acquaintance. He knew I drove a truck and had a family. He approached me about the job. I wasn’t even looking at the time.