Truck Transportation and Warehousing Industries

Significant Points

Nature of the Industry[About this section] [To Top]

Goods and services. Firms in the truck transportation and warehousing industry provide a link between manufacturers and consumers. Businesses contract with trucking and warehousing companies to pick up, transport, store, and deliver a variety of goods. The industry includes general freight trucking, specialized freight trucking, and warehousing and storage.

Industry organization. General freight trucking uses motor vehicles, such as trucks and tractor-trailers, to provide over-the-road transportation of general commodities. This industry segment is further subdivided based on distance traveled. Local trucking establishments carry goods primarily within a single metropolitan area and its adjacent non-urban areas. Long-distance trucking establishments carry goods between distant areas.

Local trucking comprised 29,400 trucking establishments in 2008. The work of local trucking firms varies with the products transported. Produce truckers usually pick up loaded trucks early in the morning and spend the rest of the day delivering produce to many different grocery stores. Lumber truck drivers, on the other hand, make several trips from the lumberyard to one or more construction sites. Some local truck transportation firms may also take on sales and customer relations responsibilities for a client, in addition to delivering the firm's products.

Long-distance trucking comprises establishments engaged primarily in providing trucking between distant areas and sometimes between the United States and Canada or Mexico. Numbering 40,900 establishments, these firms handle every kind of commodity.

Specialized freight trucking provides over-the-road transportation of freight, which, because of size, weight, shape, or other inherent characteristics, requires specialized equipment, such as flatbeds, tankers, or refrigerated trailers. This industry sector also includes the moving industry—that is, the transportation of household, institutional, and commercial furniture for individuals or companies that are relocating. Like general freight trucking, specialized freight trucking is subdivided into local and long-distance components. The specialized freight trucking sector contained 47,600 establishments in 2008.

Many goods are carried using intermodal transportation to save time and money. Intermodal transportation encompasses any combination of transportation by truck, train, plane, or ship. Typically, trucks perform at least one leg of the trip, since they are the most flexible mode of transport. For example, a shipment of cars from an assembly plant begins its journey when they are loaded onto rail cars. Next, trains haul the cars across country to a depot, where the shipments are broken into smaller lots and loaded onto tractor-trailers, which drive them to dealerships. Each of these steps is carefully orchestrated and timed so that the cars arrive just in time to be shipped on their next leg of their journey. Though some perishable and time-sensitive goods may be transported by air, they are usually picked up and delivered by trucks.

Warehousing and storage facilities comprised 15,200 establishments in 2008. These firms are engaged primarily in operating warehousing and storage facilities for general merchandise and refrigerated goods. They take responsibility for keeping general merchandise and refrigerated goods secure and in good condition. A growing number of warehousing and storage facilities also may provide some logistical services, such as labeling, inventory control management, repackaging, and transportation arrangement.

Recent developments. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has resulted in increased trade with Mexico and Canada which, unlike other trading partners, can be reached by truck. Specifically, the U.S. and Canada have had longstanding agreements that allow drivers to deliver goods between the two Nations somewhat effortlessly. On the other hand, trucks traveling between the U.S. and Mexico have faced more difficulty, and bilateral agreements have been unstable.

Trucking and warehousing firms often provide logistical services encompassing the entire transportation process. Logistical services manage all aspects of the movement of goods between producers and consumers. Among their value-added services are sorting bulk goods into customized lots, packaging and repackaging goods, controlling and managing inventory, order entering and fulfillment, labeling, performing light assembly, and marking prices. Some full-service companies even perform warranty repair work and serve as local parts distributors for manufacturers. Some of these services, such as maintaining and retrieving computerized inventory information on the location, age, and quantity of goods available, have helped to improve the efficiency of relationships between manufacturers and customers.

Many firms rely on new technologies and the coordination of processes to expedite the distribution of goods. The use of computers to analyze work routines in order to optimize the use of available labor has led to increases in productivity. Some firms use Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) to track and manage incoming and outgoing shipments. RFID simplifies the receiving process by allowing entire shipments to be scanned without unpacking a load to manually compare it against a bill of lading.

Many companies use just-in-time shipping, which means that goods arrive just before they are needed, saving recipients money by reducing their need to carry large inventories. These technologies and processes reflect two major trends in warehousing: supply chain integration, whereby firms involved in production, transportation, and storage all move in concert so as to act with the greatest possible efficiency; and ongoing attempts to reduce inventory levels and increase inventory accuracy.

Working Conditions[About this section] [To Top]

Hours. In 2008, workers in the truck transportation industry averaged 41.5 hours a week, compared with an average of 39.0 hours in warehousing and storage and 33.6 in all private industries. The U.S. Department of Transportation regulates work hours and many other working conditions of truck drivers engaged in interstate commerce. Long distance drivers may not exceed 11 hours of driving per day, and work no more than 14 total hours—which includes driving and non-driving duties. Between working periods, a driver must have at least 10 hours off duty. Drivers also cannot work more than 60 hours per week without being off-duty for at least 34 straight hours Drivers are required to document their time in logbooks. Many drivers, particularly on long runs, work close to the maximum time permitted because employers usually compensate them on the basis of the number of miles or hours they drive. Drivers frequently travel at night, on holidays, and on weekends to avoid traffic delays so that they can deliver their cargo on time.

Hours for other workers in the industry vary based on their duties. Managers, office, and sales workers, for example, often work during regular business hours. Maintenance workers, laborers, and other support personnel, on the other hand, may be required to work evening or weekend shifts.

Work environment. Truck drivers must cope with a variety of working conditions, including variable weather and traffic conditions, boredom, and fatigue. Many truck drivers enjoy the independence and working without direct supervision found in long-distance driving. Local truck drivers often have regular routes or assignments that allow them to return home in the evening.

Improvements in roads and trucks reduce stress and increase the efficiency of long-distance drivers. Many advanced trucks are equipped with refrigerators, televisions, and beds for their drivers' convenience. Included in some of these state-of-the-art vehicles are satellite links with their company's headquarters, so that drivers can get directions, weather and traffic reports, and other important communications in a matter of seconds. In the event of bad weather or mechanical problems, truckers can communicate with dispatchers to discuss delivery schedules and courses of action. Satellite links allow dispatchers to track the location of the truck and monitor fuel consumption and engine performance.

Vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers usually work indoors, although they occasionally make repairs on the road. Minor cuts, burns, and bruises are common, but serious accidents typically can be avoided if the shop is kept clean and orderly and if safety practices are observed. Service technicians and mechanics handle greasy and dirty parts and may stand or lie in awkward positions to repair vehicles and equipment. They usually work in well-lighted, heated, and ventilated areas, but some shops are drafty and noisy.

Laborers, and hand freight, stock, and material movers usually work indoors, although they may do occasional work on trucks and fork lifts outside. These occupations often require a great deal of physical labor, including heavy lifting.

Safety is a major concern for the truck transportation and warehousing industry. The operation of trucks, fork lifts, and other technically advanced equipment can be dangerous without proper training and supervision. Truck drivers must adhere to federally mandated certifications and regulations requiring them to submit to drug and alcohol tests as a condition of employment. Employers are required to perform random on-the-job checks for drugs and alcohol.

Employment[To Top]

The truck transportation and warehousing industry provided 2.1 million wage and salary jobs in 2008.

Most employees in the truck transportation and warehousing industry work in small establishments. Fewer than 5 workers are employed by 62 percent of trucking and warehousing establishments. Consolidation in the industry has reduced the number of small, specialized firms. Trucking and warehousing establishments are found throughout the United States.

Occupations in the Industry[To Top]

Truck drivers held 44 percent of all wage and salary jobs, 914,100, in the industry. Other transportation and material moving jobs accounted for 26 percent of industry employment, while various office and administrative support occupations employed another 17 percent. Management, business, and financial occupations held 4 percent of all jobs in the industry; vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers accounted for 3 percent; and sales and related workers held 2 percent.

Transportation and material moving occupations. These jobs account for 70 percent of all jobs in the industry (table 1). Truck drivers and driver/sales workers, who hold 44 percent of all trucking and warehousing jobs, transport goods from one location to another. They ensure the safe delivery of cargo to a specific destination by a designated time. Drivers also perform some minor maintenance work on their vehicles and make routine safety checks.

The length of trips varies with the type of merchandise and its final destination. Local drivers provide regular service while long-haul drivers make intercity and interstate deliveries that take longer and may vary from job to job. The driver's responsibilities and assignments vary according to the time spent on the road and the type of goods transported.

Local drivers typically have regular schedules and return home at the end of the day. They may deliver goods to stores or homes or haul away dirt and debris from excavation sites. Many local drivers cover the same routes daily or weekly. Long-distance truck drivers often are on the road for long stretches of time. Their trips vary from an overnight stay to a week or more. On longer trips, drivers sometimes sleep in bunks in their cabs or share the driving with another driver.

Laborers, and hand freight, stock, and material movers help load and unload freight and move it around warehouses and terminals. Often, these unskilled employees work together in groups of three or four. They may use conveyor belts, handtrucks, pallet jacks, or fork lifts to move freight. They may place heavy or bulky items on wooden skids or pallets to be moved by industrial trucks.

Office and administrative support occupations. Dispatchers coordinate the movement of freight and trucks, and provide the main communication link that informs the truck drivers of their assignments, schedules, and routes. Dispatchers frequently receive new shipping orders on short notice and must juggle drivers' assignments and schedules to accommodate clients. Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks keep records of shipments arriving and leaving. They verify the contents of trucks' cargo against shipping records. They also may pack and move stock. Billing and posting clerks and machine operators maintain company records of the shipping rates negotiated with customers and shipping charges incurred; they also prepare customer invoices.

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations . These workers ensure that trucks and warehouse equipment function properly and remain in good working order. Service technicians and mechanics, also called vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers, perform preventive safety checks as well as routine service and repairs. Service technicians and mechanics sometimes advance to parts manager positions. Parts managers maintain the supply of replacement parts needed to repair vehicles. Parts managers monitor the parts inventory using a computerized system and purchase new parts to replenish supplies. These employees need mechanical knowledge and must be familiar with computers and purchasing procedures.

Sales and related occupations. Sales workers, often called brokers, sell the industry’s services to companies who need goods shipped. They meet with prospective buyers, discuss the customers' needs, and suggest appropriate services. Travel may be required, and many analyze sales statistics, prepare reports, and handle some administrative duties.

Management occupations. Managers provide general direction to firms. They staff, supervise, and provide safety and other training to workers in the various occupations. They also resolve logistical problems such as forecasting the demand for company services; ordering parts and equipment service support; and scheduling the transportation of goods.

Table 1. Employment of wage and salary workers in truck transportation and warehousing, 2008 and projected change, 2008-2018. (Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2008 Percent Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
All occupations 2,063.8 100.0 11.0
Management, business, and financial occupations 82.9 4.0 5.0
  Management occupations 54.7 2.7 -0.6
  Business and financial operations occupations 28.1 1.4 16.0
Office and administrative support occupations 342.0 16.6 5.9
  Customer service representatives 29.7 1.4 19.5
  Dispatchers, except police, fire, and ambulance 37.6 1.8 -6.5
  Stock clerks and order fillers 59.4 2.9 15.5
  Secretaries and administrative assistants 26.2 1.3 -0.9
  Office clerks, general 41.6 2.0 6.8
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations 86.3 4.2 8.9
  Industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance workers 20.0 1.0 15.5
Transportation and material moving occupations 1,447.2 70.1 12.7
  First-line supervisors/managers of helpers, laborers, and material movers, hand 29.5 1.4 8.7
  First-line supervisors/managers of transportation and material-moving machine and vehicle operators 40.7 2.0 2.7
  Truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer 828.6 40.2 18.4
  Truck drivers, light or delivery services 76.0 3.7 -1.3
  Industrial truck and tractor operators 109.2 5.3 10.2
  Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 257.5 12.5 3.4
  Packers and packagers, hand 57.5 2.8 13.9
NOTE: Columns may not add to total due to omission of occupations with small employment.

Training and Advancement[About this section] [To Top]

Most jobs in the truck transportation and warehousing industry require a high school education or less, although an increasing number of workers have at least some post-secondary education. Postsecondary education is especially important for those seeking positions in management. Emphasis on formal education stems from the increasing use of technology in the industry. Nearly all operations involve computers and information management systems. Many occupations—especially those involved in scheduling, ordering, and receiving—require detail-oriented people with computer skills. Some companies provide such training in-house. Other sources of training include trade associations, unions, and vocational schools. Many companies have specific curricula on safety and procedural issues, as well as on occupational duties.

Transportation and material moving occupations. Most truck drivers are required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). To qualify for a CDL, applicants must have a clean driving record, pass several written tests on rules and regulations, and demonstrate the ability to safely operate commercial trucks. Information on obtaining a CDL may be obtained from each States’ motor vehicle administration.

Experienced and reliable truck drivers with good driving records receive better pay as well as more desirable routes, schedules, or loads. Because of increased competition for experienced drivers, some larger companies are luring these drivers with higher wages, signing bonuses, and preferred assignments. Some trucking firms hire only experienced drivers.

Some long-distance truck drivers purchase trucks and go into business for themselves. Although many of these owner-operators are successful, some fail to cover expenses and eventually go out of business. Owner-operators should have good business sense as well as truck-driving experience. Courses in accounting, business, and business mathematics are helpful, and knowledge of truck mechanics can enable owner-operators to perform their own routine maintenance and minor repairs. Some trucking companies engage in franchising, providing drivers with the means to purchase a truck while also lining up loads for them to haul.

Unskilled employees may work as helpers, laborers, and material movers. They must be in good physical condition because the work often involves a great deal of physical labor and heavy lifting. They acquire skills on the job and can advance to more skilled jobs, such as industrial truck operator, truck driver, shipping and receiving clerk, or supervisor.

Office and administrative support occupations. Most clerical jobs in the truck transportation and warehousing industry require familiarity with computers. Shipping and receiving clerks watch and learn the skills of the trade from more experienced workers while on the job. Stock clerks may advance to dispatcher positions after becoming familiar with company operations and procedures.

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations. While some vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers learn the trade on the job, most employers prefer to hire graduates of programs in diesel mechanics offered by community and junior colleges or vocational and technical schools. Those with no training often start as helpers to mechanics, doing basic errands and chores, such as washing trucks or moving them to different locations. Experience as an automotive service technician is helpful because many of the skills relate to diesel technology. Experienced technicians may advance to shop supervisor or parts manager positions.

Management, business, and financial occupations. For managerial jobs in the truck transportation and warehousing industry, employers prefer persons with bachelor's degrees in business, marketing, accounting, industrial relations, or economics. Good communication, problem-solving, and analytical skills are valuable in entry-level jobs. Since trucking and warehousing firms may rely heavily on computer technology to aid in the distribution of goods, knowledge of information systems also is helpful for advancement. Although most managers must learn logistics through extensive training on the job, several universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs in logistics. These programs emphasize the tools necessary to manage the distribution of goods and may be associated with the business departments of schools. Marketing and sales workers must be familiar with their firm's products and services and have strong communication skills.

Outlook[About this section] [To Top]

Growth in the truck transportation and warehousing industry reflects ups and downs in the national economy. Job opportunities are expected to be favorable for truck drivers and diesel service technicians.

Employment change. The number of wage and salary jobs in the truck transportation and warehousing industry is expected to grow 11 percent from 2008 through 2018, equal to the projected growth for all industries combined.

One of the main factors influencing the growth of the truck transportation and warehousing industry is the state of the national economy. Growth in the industry reflects ups and downs in the national economy. As the national economy grows and the production and sales of goods increases, there is an increase in the demand for transportation services to move goods from their producers to consumers. During economic downturns, on the other hand, the truck transportation and warehousing industry often is one of the first to slow down as orders for goods and shipments decline.

Competition in truck transportation is intense, both among trucking companies and, in some long-haul truckload segments, with the railroad industry. Nevertheless, trucking accounts for the bulk of freight transportation. Warehousing is expected to grow faster than the rest of the industry.

Additional employment growth will result from manufacturers who outsource their distribution functions to trucking and warehousing companies which can perform these tasks with greater efficiency. As firms in other industries increasingly employ the industry's logistical services, such as inventory management and just-in-time shipping, many new jobs will be created. Also, as more consumers and businesses make purchases over the Internet, the expansion of electronic commerce will continue to increase demand for the transportation, logistical, and value-added services offered by the truck transportation and warehousing industry.

Job prospects. Opportunities for most jobs are expected to be favorable, especially for truck drivers. Many people leave the career because of the lengthy periods away from home and the long hours of driving that the job requires. Stricter requirements for obtaining—and keeping—a commercial driver's license also make truck driving a less attractive career. New restrictions on who can obtain or renew their hazardous-material endorsement should increase opportunities for those able to pass the criminal background checks now required. Opportunities for diesel service technicians and mechanics also are expected to be favorable, especially for applicants with formal postsecondary training.

Growth in the truck transportation and warehousing industry should prompt an increase in office and administrative support employment. More dispatchers, stock clerks, and shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks will be needed to support expanded logistical services across the country. Opportunities for those with information technology skills should be excellent.

Earnings [About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Industry earnings. In 2008, average earnings in the truck transportation portion of the industry were about the same as the average for all private industry, as shown in table 2, while average earnings in the warehousing portion were lower than the average in all private industry.

Table 2. Average earnings of nonsupervisory workers in truck transportation and warehousing, 2008
Industry segment Hourly Weekly
Total, private industry $18.08 $608
Truck transportation 17.99 746
  General freight trucking 17.99 753
  Specialized freight trucking 17.97 729
Warehousing and storage 15.14 590
  Refrigerated warehousing and storage 15.95 601
  Miscellaneous warehousing and storage 15.18 610
  General warehousing and storage 15.07 587

Wages in selected occupations in truck transportation and warehousing appear in table 3.

Table 3. Median hourly wages of the largest occupations in truck transportation and warehousing, May 2008
Occupation Truck transportation Warehousing and storage All industries
First-line supervisors/managers of transportation and material-moving machine and vehicle operators $25.46 $24.33 $24.67
Truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer 18.79 18.62 17.92
Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists 17.71 20.32 18.94
Truck drivers, light or delivery services 15.68 15.32 13.27
Industrial truck and tractor operators 15.31 13.94 13.98
Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks 14.04 13.94 13.30
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 12.85 12.52 10.89
Stock clerks and order fillers 12.70 13.74 10.00
Office clerks, general 11.77 14.27 12.17
Packers and packagers, hand 11.09 11.94 9.16

Most employers compensate truck drivers based on distance covered, and may have incentives that encourage them to save fuel. Other workers are paid an hourly wage or salary. Sales workers are often paid commissions.

Benefits and union membership. Benefits, including performance-related bonuses, health insurance, and sick and vacation leave, are common in the trucking industry.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents many truck drivers and other workers in this industry. In 2008, about 11 percent of truck transportation and 7 percent of warehousing and storage workers were union members or are covered by union contracts, compared with approximately 14 percent of workers in all industries.

Many truck drivers are self-employed owner-operators. These workers are generally responsible for their own health insurance and other benefits.



*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

Explore more careers: View all Careers or Browse Careers by Category