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I want to be a truck driver. What will my salary be?

An aging work force coupled with an increase in online shipments and just-in-time delivery has put a strain on an industry that has historically struggled to attract young talent.

RICHARD BUCHAN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Job: Truck driver

The role: With 90 per cent of all consumer products and foodstuffs in North America travelling by truck toward their final destination, truck drivers are undoubtedly vital to the health of the economy. It is the truck driver's role to deliver large quantities of products on time and damage free, while maintaining a clean truck that is up to date with industry safety standards and advancements in technology.

"Getting into a truck cab these days is more like getting into the pilot's seat of an airplane, given all the technology that is in play," said David Bradley, chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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The salary: Mr. Bradley says that the salary of truck drivers – or transport operators, as they're typically called within the industry – depends on where they are based, the distance they travel and the size of their vehicle.

"Typically, across most of the country, a long-distance tractor-trailer driver can make in the range of $70,000 to $75,000 a year," he said, adding that the driver's salary will depend on how much time he or she spends on the road that year.

Drivers who focus on localized pickup and delivery, which allows them to sleep in their own bed each night, earn closer to $40,000 annually, he said, while long-haul tractor-trailer operators based in Alberta, which has been facing a labour shortage, can earn in excess of $100,000 annually.

By the numbers: According to a 2013 report by Service Canada, the national average income for "transport and equipment operators and related occupations" – which includes drivers of moving trucks, tow trucks, dump trucks and tractor-trailers, among others – was $38,111. A majority of industry workers, 68 per cent, earn between $20,000 and $49,999 annually, with 19.2 per cent earning more than $50,000 a year. The vast majority are male, about 96 per cent, with nearly half over the age of 45.

Education: While each province has its own licensing standards, Mr. Bradley said that passing a provincial exam doesn't necessarily guarantee employment.

"There's what's required, and then there's what's required if you want to get a job," he said. "As an industry, we're not particularly satisfied with what governments currently require for people to get into the business."

Mr. Bradley said that while aspiring truck drivers can enroll in a standard program for a few hundred dollars – which will provide enough training to pass the provincial licensing exams – most employers have higher expectations.

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"It's frankly too easy to get in many cases, and companies don't have the assurances that just having that piece of paper makes you employable."

Mr. Bradley adds that the Canadian Trucking Alliance is working with government bodies across the country to implement more comprehensive mandatory training. In the meantime, he recommends that aspiring truck drivers seek out "reputable" training programs, which can cost as much as a few thousand dollars. When considering a training program, he says students should ensure that they are offered by or certified by organizations such as the Professional Truck Driver Institute, Trucking HR Canada or a provincial authority, such as the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.

Job prospects: The trucking industry is in desperate need of employees across the country. An aging work force coupled with an increase in online shipments and just-in-time delivery has put a strain on an industry that has historically struggled to attract young talent.

"We're facing a demographic tsunami in the industry. We have probably the oldest work force in the country and we're certainly having problems attracting young people into the occupation," Mr. Bradley said. "We're begging for good, qualified people."

A 2013 study by the Conference Board of Canada estimates that the gap between the supply and demand of truck drivers will be 25,000 people wide by the year 2020.

Challenges: While tight deadlines, traffic delays, border tie-ups, mechanical failures and poor weather can make driving a truck a stressful job, Mr. Bradley says the most difficult aspect of a career behind the wheel is spending so much time on the road.

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"The time away from home and the number of hours that you're away and working elsewhere, that's definitely the most difficult," he said.

Why they do it: For many truck drivers, the job represents the kind of freedom that is unattainable behind a desk.

"You're not under somebody's thumb all the time," said Mr. Bradley, adding that although the job is demanding, it can be a career for life and you can make a good living at it.

"While there are monitoring technologies to make sure there is compliance with hours of service and speed controls, you don't have somebody breathing down your neck every moment of the day."

Furthermore, working as a truck operator opens the door to a variety of well-paying positions within the trucking industry, including freight broker and fleet operator.

"Most of them start with one truck that they contract out to the carriers, and over time, we've actually got a boardroom full of people who started with one truck and now run multimillion-dollar fleets," Mr. Bradley said.

Misconceptions: Mr. Bradley says that while some may question the abilities of the operators they encounter on the road, industry standards, insurance providers and government bodies ensure that truck drivers are among the safest drivers in the country.

"We're a very safety-sensitive business. Safety is good business – our insurance companies certainly mandate that – and therefore we have to make sure the people who are coming in at least have some basic level of skill," he said."You could have one major calamity and that could put your entire company at risk."

Give us the scoop: Are you a truck driver? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.

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