Remember the very first time you drove a car? You were eager, but scared, too. You did a quick check of control systems — steering, brakes, where the pedals were. Hands clamped on the wheel, you began moving forward, a little shaky at first … but you were moving. Mistakes were made along the way, but in no time at all, you were operating that car with confidence and wondering why you were ever nervous about it.
This scenario could be about your first solo ride on a bicycle, or maybe about the first time you piloted a boat across the water.
For many truck drivers — and for increasing numbers of women who are entering the profession — that scenario describes their first time driving a big rig.
In the “olden” days, women truck drivers were rare. Trucks were noisy and dirty and driven by men with strong arms, since there was no power steering. Other tasks, like cranking up trailer supports and pulling fifth-wheel pins, took muscle. When the long day was done, drivers sometimes slept on boards placed across the seats in trucks, without air conditioning and sometimes with inadequate heat.
Truck stops weren’t equipped for women, either. The ones that had showers provided a grubby space that looked like the boys’ locker room in high school — one room with multiple shower heads that all the men used.
Those days are long gone.
Trucks today have power steering, automated transmissions and climate-control systems that rival some homes. Sleeper berths have comfortable beds, storage space and, often, refrigerators, televisions and all kinds of comforts. In addition, most truck stops have clean, lockable, private showers that can be used by anyone.
Many women are taking advantage of the opportunities offered by a career in trucking. A chief benefit is the short training time before earnings begin. Many CDL schools offer training that can be completed in three weeks; however, trucking companies that hire recent graduates usually require more training that may be paid at a reduced rate.
The cost of CDL school can be attractive, too. Some carriers run their own CDL schools and/or contract with private CDL schools to pay the tuition of graduates who hire on with their company. Additional training, often called “driver finishing,” is usually paid. In most cases, the carrier agreement to pay for schooling includes an obligation for the new driver to remain employed with that carrier for a period of time. This can range from as little as eight months at some carriers to 24 months or longer.
People who choose a career in trucking can earn $60,000 or more in their first year of employment.
The Women In Trucking (WIT) Index surveys both publicly and privately held trucking carriers in addition to companies associated with the trucking industry. The 2023 survey reported that 12.1% of the driving force in surveyed carriers was comprised of women. Survey respondents reported a total of 470,000 total drivers — and nearly 46,900 of those are female.
Many over-the-road (OTR) trucking jobs require time away from home. Jobs that get the driver home weekly are common, but some jobs may keep drivers out several weeks at a time. That’s a consideration for any driver, and for some women, especially single parents, this roadblock can be insurmountable.
If, however, a new driver can complete the obligation required to pay for training and maintain a safe record, local opportunities may open up that get the driver home every day. Local jobs can include delivery of food, beverages or other retail items, fuels, construction materials or the pickup of trash and other tasks. The pay for local jobs is often a step down from that earned over the road because of the popularity of those jobs — but it’s still better than fast food or local retail positions.
The less-than-truckload (LTL) segment of trucking may offer “out-and-back” driving opportunities hauling packages between sort locations. Depending on the company, location and company needs, there may be a requirement to work on the dock or run local pickup and delivery routes before a linehaul opportunity is offered. These positions generally pay well and provide good benefits.
For women who want to come off the road but remain in the trucking industry, numerous opportunities exist and may be abundant for those who live in the right locales. The 2023 WIT Index reported that 43.5% of dispatchers are women. In addition to many roles traditionally held by men, trucking companies have many of the same office positions as companies in other industries. Many offer opportunities in finance, sales, management and clerical opportunities, and many women fill executive positions for trucking companies and industry-related businesses.
One segment of the industry where the percentage of women is growing is truck maintenance technicians. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), there is a severe shortage of technicians to keep trucks rolling. The ATA predicts that the need for technicians will rise from the current 242,200 to more than 442,000 in the next 10 years. As vehicles powered by electricity and other alternative fuels become more prevalent in the industry, technicians will be needed for those, too.
Like driving positions, some carriers are willing to fund the education needed to qualify for technician jobs. Many carriers will bring on minimally qualified technicians, providing time and funding for them to grow their skills while earning a paycheck.
According to the WIT Index, survey respondents reported that 7.5% of their technicians are female.
Women seeking a career with good pay and benefits are looking to the trucking industry in ever-increasing numbers, and with good reason. There is a wide variety of positions available, training time and expense compare very favorably to other industries, and many of the skills are portable. Drivers, for example, are needed in every state so a qualified driver can quickly find work if the family moves.
If you are a woman in need of a career change, the trucking industry could deliver just the job you’re looking for.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.