DEAR JOYCE: I notice you focus on white-collar jobs, but I want to trade in a white-collar job to become a truck driver. I've been a drafter, but my company is laying off. Please advise me as I don't want to foul up. -- J.J.
Smart fellow. I've had complaints about unscrupulous private truck-driving schools.
A happier story features Gordon Hafemann, 43, who recently graduated from U.S. Trucking School in Midway, Colo. A former fleet manager for a car rental company, Hafemann this year decided to change his life.
He determined to switch not only his career but to relocate to Colorado from California. After enrolling in the truck-driving school, Hafemann graduated at the top of his class and was snatched up for employment before he graduated. His six-week course cost $4,000 and he spent less than $1,000 for room, board and sundry expenses. Swift Transportation Co. of Phoenix, Hafemann's new employer, is providing an additional six weeks of training on the job.
A suit-wearing manager for most of his career, Hafemann loves the idea of rambling down the highway in an 18-wheeler. A surprising number of white-collar workers are now attracted to the lure of living on the open road days at a time, earning a good living (often $20,000 to $50,000 annually) and being your own boss. A drug rehabilitation counselor, nurse, mechanic, restaurant worker and law enforcement officer were in Hafemann's class. Based on experience, Hafemann suggests planning ahead.
1. Hang out at truck stops and gas stations where truckers congregate and chat them up. Say "I'm thinking about getting into driving and I would appreciate any advice." Ask which companies they think are best to work for. At truck stops you'll find trucking magazines that provide more career data, including notices of truckers' conventions. Attend at least one of these so you can get to know people in the business.
2. Once you identify companies you want to work for, contact their personnel chiefs and ask at which schools they recruit. Check public community colleges and vo-tech schools as well as private truck-driving schools. Public education programs are rare, but they do exist and accept out-of-state students. Even though public schools are inexpensive, be just as tough in your expectations of their programs and future placement help as you would be with a private school. After all, it's the outcome that counts. If you're short of cash, get an educational loan.
3. Research at least three truck-driving schools to compare their offerings. Find out exactly what they do to place graduates in first jobs; don't accept a generalized, "We place our graduates." Insist on getting chapter and verse as well as the names of at least six recent graduates placed by the school.
Tip: For two publications, "Careers in Truckdriving" and "What to Look for in a Truckdriver Training School," send a stamped, self-addressed long white envelope to the American Trucking Associations, Public Affairs, 2200 Mill Road, Alexandria, Va. 22314.
For $4, you can obtain "Checklist for Quality Programs in Tractor-Trailer Driver Training" and a list of certified truck-driver schools from Professional Truck Driver Institute, 8788 Elk Grove Blvd. Suit 20, Elk Grove, Calif. 95624.
If you have a poor work, health or driving record, employers will avoid you. But for others who would like to make the move but fear change, Gordon Hafemann agrees with writer Ray Bradbury. To paraphrase: Sometimes it's necessary to "jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down."