Carolyn Daniel started waiting tables at the Big Country Truck Stop on I-35 in Oklahoma when she was 27. Now, 23 years later, the Heiburger, Ala., resident commutes to a Petro Stopping Center near Bessemer every Thursday, Friday and Saturday to work in the Iron Skillet. “Truckers are good tippers,” Daniel says. “Working people and middle class people are the best. Rich people don’t tip good at all. The best tipper is the customer you pay the most attention to.” Paying attention to her trucker customers keeps her busy and on her feet because they like to talk. “They often come in discouraged or unhappy,” she says. “They tell me I brighten their day.”
Some call trucking a lonely profession, with miles of open road and no one to talk to but voices on Channel 19. Still, as isolated as the job seems, owner-operators routinely interact with dozens of people.
While many drivers may never meet the white collars who own large trucking companies or write the federal rules of the road, they do come in contact with various professionals whose compensation, skill sets and working conditions are sometimes comparable to those of truckers.
The average owner-operator makes just more than $40,000 a year, according to the 2004 Overdrive Owner-Operator Market Behavior Report. Company drivers aren’t too far behind, averaging $39,000, according to the National Survey of Driver Wages. By contrast, lumpers and truck stop waitresses earn much less, while a new truck dealer or the chief executive officer of a large carrier likely has a six-figure income.
Many non-trucking jobs in the industry offer better working conditions, lots of home time and – because the employees are not independent contractors – better benefits. Still, each has its own drawbacks that an owner-operator doesn’t have to put up with. And none can match the business independence and the pleasure of seeing the country that are the unique perks of the owner-operator.
BENEFITS: Health insurance, vacation and retirement benefits.
HOURS: 40 to 50 hours a week, possible shift work.
THE WORK: Often stressful. Requires diplomacy and multi-tasking to deal with many different people and problems.
JOB DEMAND: High.
A dispatcher is the carrier employee truckers interact with the most. As such, that person can have a bigger influence than pay or benefits on retaining drivers and owner-operators.
When Rodney Phipps, vice president of operations, hires dispatchers for the 400-truck carrier Texas Star Express, he generally looks for someone with limited dispatching experience but strong communication skills.
“Someone who is level-headed and follows rules well,” Phipps says. “I want to train them to do it the way we do it. If I hire a guy from J.B. Hunt or Swift, it’s hard to change their behavior. It’s just easier to grow our own.”
Dispatchers come from a variety of backgrounds and expertise. Their salaries also vary significantly, though some make much more than the drivers they manage.
“The salary range is between $40,000 to $75,000 (for medium to large trucking companies), depending upon the demands of the position,” says Don Jacobson, president of transportation headhunting firm LogiPros. “Sophistication and technology play an important part in the salary. In determining salary it is important to factor in whether the dispatcher deals with the drivers exclusively or also has communication with the customers.”
Dispatchers must have strong communication skills, the ability to multi-task and excellent computer and problem-solving skills, as well as strong routing and load-planning knowledge, Jacobson says. Dispatchers work in stressful environments that require quick thinking and diplomacy when dealing with disappointed drivers or customers.