Earnings depend on experience and what kind of route is being driven. Typically, cross-country jobs are least desirable because of the time away from home, but they pay the best. Local routes generally pay a little less. But fierce competition for drivers is pushing wages up, Mr. Blackwell said.
"A little while ago I was telling over-the-road drivers you're probably going to pull $40,000 to $43,000. In the last five to six months that's jumped dramatically. If they're really ready to spin those wheels, they could make $45,000 to $55,000 in their first year right out of our school."
Some make even more than that -- experienced truckers might pull down $80,000 a year or more.
Classes generally take four to six weeks. At Trainco, tuition is $3,995.
Trucking remains the most popular way to get products from producer to consumer, with the association reporting 70 percent of tonnage of freight delivered in the United States moves by truck. Some industry people say rising fuel costs work in their favor, as shipping by air becomes too expensive. Shipping by train is cheaper but can be slower, and trucks are still usually needed to get product to the end location. The fracking boom in Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio also has led to more trucking jobs.
Still, a commercial driver's license isn't an absolute guarantee for a job.
"Just because you have a CDL doesn't mean you're going to get hired right away. A lot of these carriers require some level of experience or certifications," Mr. McNally said.
The trucking association found 90 percent of truckload carriers surveyed reported they can't find enough drivers. But the association also found that 88 percent say they are getting applicants who don't meet their standards.
K-Limited Carrier, an 80-truck outfit based in Toledo that hauls chemicals, requires its drivers to be experienced and have hazardous material certification. Finding drivers is becoming increasingly difficult.
"Our standards are higher than the rest of the industry and that makes it more difficult," said Nedal Awada, the company's director of safety and regulatory compliance. "We're slowly finding drivers, but the avenues that we used to find drivers from are no longer working for us, so we're out there trying to find new ways of recruiting. The key to our success is retaining our current drivers."
K-Limited has begun offering its drivers referral bonuses if they help bring in a new employee.
Ms. Awada said the company has nearly enough drivers for its current fleet of trucks, but its business is growing, and it's looking to add both equipment and employees.
"The chemical side of the industry, we have recovered," Ms. Awada said.
One change industry groups and some companies are pushing for are new rules that would ease the transition into a civilian truck driving job for military veterans. Currently the military driver's license isn't completely compatible with CDL rules.
"We're in essentially saying these are men and women who overseas can operate heavy equipment in a combat zone, but they can't drive on a highway. We'd like that transition to smooth out a little bit," Mr. McNally said.
The association is also pushing for Congress to make it easier for veterans to use GI Bill money to pay for truck-driving school.
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