Trucking in the United States is a more than $726 billion business, as of 2015, and moved more than 70 percent of American freight—approximately 10.5 billion tons—that year. It is an integral part of the nation's economy. Almost everything Americans eat, wear, or use at home or in business travels at least partly via truck. Trucking and related businesses employ millions of people, but roughly half of these workers don't drive trucks.
Two main groups comprise the trucking industry. The largest employers in the field are for-hire carriers, which are further separated into common carriers and contract carriers. The other main group is private carriers, trucking fleets owned by businesses to ship their products. About one out of eight truck drivers is self-employed as independent owner-operator drivers who have contracts with a variety of companies or lease their services to a regular client.
The majority of workers in the industry are drivers. It takes a variety of other workers, however, to keep trucks running and goods moving. Dispatchers coordinate freight shipments and trucks; traffic, shipping, and receiving clerks record shipments arriving and leaving; billing clerks maintain company records and customer invoices; mechanics perform maintenance and keep trucks running; logistics engineers plan the most efficient ways to ship goods. In addition, trucking also supports jobs for office workers, administrators, sales and marketing professionals, human resources workers, and executives.
The strength of the industry is tied to the economy. When business is good and manufacturers need to ship lots of products, trucking companies and drivers do well. When the economy slows, as in the Great Recession, trucking business slows as well. However, the future looks bright, and employment in trucking is projected to grow at a steady pace through 2024. Growing Internet retail business should fuel the industry as e-commerce businesses ship more and more packages to customers.
To meet client demands and increase their business opportunities, some trucking companies have expanded to include logistical services, such as inventory management and just-in-time shipping. Trucking companies also have been forced to tighten security and make adjustments in response to the threat of terrorism. Trucks have been used in several notable terrorist attacks over the years. Employees must undergo background checks, and trucks themselves are subject to close scrutiny on the highways, especially at bridges and tunnels.
The trucking industry grapples with ongoing issues of highway safety, environmental regulations, restrictions on work hours for drivers, and even competition from foreign trucking companies since changing regulations have allowed Mexican trucks to transport goods within the United States. Still, trucking will remain a vital element of the economy, and opportunities will remain strong for well-qualified candidates.