During Back to School Season, Consider Options Besides College

While the beginning of the month of August is prime summer vacation time, getting towards the end of the month is a different story. By the end of August, most kids in the U.S. are heading back to school. For those older kids who are nearing the end of their high school career, they need to get ready to make some big life decisions. What should they do after high school?

For the last several decades, there has seemingly been only one answer to that question: college. With the sky-high price of college tuition, there has never been a better time for young people to make sure they consider all of their options. Among them, foregoing college to pursue a good-paying job that turns into a rewarding career in the commercial trucking industry.

The job that likely first comes to mind when hearing about the commercial trucking industry, is truck driver. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) reports that the U.S. as a whole is short 80,000 truck drivers. This means that anyone who is able to obtain their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is almost guaranteed to get a job.

The truck driver shortage has led to a situation that is resulting in increasing wages. A recent report indicates that the median truckload driver earned more than $69,000 per year, and that the median salary for a driver at a private fleet was $85,000. These are wages that many four-year college degree holders have to work many years to attain. During those years, they are likely paying expensive student loans debt, as the average student loan debt is $28,950 per borrower.

While it will vary by entity and by region, CDL training school will cost a fraction of that number. However, paying tuition to attend CDL training school might not even be necessary. In many cases, future CDL drivers can learn on the job and get educated by the very company that will ultimately employ them as a driver.

The other big area of opportunity for folks who may be seeking immediate employment rather than pursuing a four-year college degree is commercial truck engine maintenance. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) writes that “About 28,500 openings for diesel service technicians and mechanics are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.”

Today’s diesel truck engines are vastly different from what they were like 30 or 40 years ago. They are more efficient and have significantly reduced their emissions. Even more importantly, they are very technologically advanced. Much like passenger cars do, new commercial truck engines have essentially computer systems in them. Part of this is on-board diagnostics, meaning that the technician will immediately be notified of exactly what is wrong and needs to be addressed. In older versions of truck engines, that was not the case. Technology is making the job of an engine maintenance technician easier than it used to be. That is also the case with driving jobs, as new trucks offer comfort and advanced safety technologies (electronic stability control, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, to name a few) that did not exist decades ago.

The decision to not pursue a four-year college degree, or at least not immediately, is a big one. It is also a trend that has already started. A paper from the Brookings Institution states, “From 2010 to 2021, undergraduate enrollment dropped by 15%, translating into about 2.6 million fewer students.”

A career as a maintenance technician or a driver in the commercial trucking industry will be a rewarding one. Everything that we buy was on a truck at one point or another, during its journey to the store where you bought it, or your front door step. Without truck drivers and the technicians who maintain the trucks, our economy would stop. We could not get food, medication, clothing, or anything else.

For anyone looking for a long and rewarding career that does not require steep student loan debt in order to get there, consider seeking employment with a trucking company in your area.