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Veterans Transportation Career Guide

Even after their time in the military, many veterans are continuing to serve our country by doing essential work in the transportation industry. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, veterans make up approximately 10% of all professional truck drivers in America today. This is not a coincidence, as trucking companies often try to recruit  veterans because of their work ethic and skills. 

This has been beneficial for both veterans and transportation companies. Additionally, it has helped address the growing nationwide demand for truck drivers and the important work they do. Several key factors contribute to the success of veterans in the transportation industry, and a wide range of rewarding careers that they can consider.

Do Military Skills Transfer to Transportation Careers?

The skills that veterans acquire through their military service can translate to a variety of different industries, and transportation is no different. There are several military-related skills that make veterans more attractive to trucking and transportation companies:  

  • Situational awareness: Because of their experience engaging in high-stakes activities, veterans often develop excellent situational awareness. This skill is essential for working with any kind of heavy equipment, which transportation industry employees must do frequently when operating and repairing vehicles.
  • Leadership: Commonly associated with military service, leadership skills are valuable in the transportation industry for planning repair timelines and taking on complex projects.
  • Stress management: Due to factors like delivery deadlines and changing road conditions, many transportation careers can be highly stressful. Because veterans often have more experience navigating high-risk situations, their performance is less likely to be impacted by these work-related stressors.
  • Stamina: While it’s not often associated with driving, stamina is an essential skill for transportation industry jobs like long-haul trucking and package delivery. The training and experience that veterans gain through service helps prepare them for physically demanding situations.     

These skill-based advantages have translated to significantly better outcomes for veterans in the transportation industry. Industry studies have found that veteran drivers are more productive than non-veterans in terms of miles traveled, and are less likely to have accidents and/or be involuntarily terminated. 

What Benefits Does the Transportation Industry Offer Veterans?

While veterans are highly desirable recruits for transportation companies, the industry also has a lot to offer them in return. There are several notable benefits of working in transportation that veterans can consider. 

  • Income: While compensation for transportation industry jobs varies, veteran candidates’ appeal can help them attract higher pay. Additionally, many employers offer other forms of compensation for veterans, such as free in-house CDL training. 
  • Security: Because of the high demand for transportation professionals, unfilled job openings for truckers and similar positions are projected to grow steadily over the next decade, making this a stable long-term career choice for veterans.
  • Flexibility: Working in transportation offers veterans a relatively high level of flexibility, as they can decide between part-time or full-time employment, and choose from a variety of careers with different work schedules.
  • Travel: For veterans, readjusting to civilian life is critical, but the idea of going from the military to a desk job may seem tedious. Working in transportation provides them with an opportunity to explore new areas of the country while getting paid to do it.  

These benefits have helped make transportation careers an attractive option for veterans, and their unique appeal has led many to find steady, fulfilling, and lucrative work in various areas of the industry.

Careers in Trucking

Within the transportation industry, there is a wide variety of career options that come with different responsibilities and require different skills and credentials. To identify the best path for them, individuals should carefully consider how each of these options relates to their own strengths and career goals.

Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

These professionals are responsible for inspecting, maintaining, and repairing cars and light trucks. They commonly work at vehicle dealerships, auto body repair shops, and auto parts stores, but they may also be self-employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for automotive service technicians and mechanics in 2021 was $46,880.   

For entry-level service technician and mechanic positions, most employers require candidates to complete an automotive service technician training program at a postsecondary institution, such as a college or trade school. These programs often last six months to a year, and provide enrollees with a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on learning experience.  

Today, most automotive service technicians and mechanics use computerized tools to diagnose problems with vehicles. However, they must also work with heavy parts and equipment to make repairs. They should be comfortable with hand tools like ratchets and pliers, and power tools such as pneumatic wrenches and lathes.  

Automotive service technicians must be familiar with all the systems in vehicles. These include traditional mechanical systems such as engines and transmissions, as well as electronic components used in modern braking and steering systems. Communication skills are also valuable for people in these roles, as they must often be able to clearly explain automotive issues to customers.

Bus, Transit, and Intercity Drivers

These professionals operate buses or motor coaches for regular transit routes, chartered trips, and/or private parties. They are commonly employed by industries such as local government, urban transit systems, interurban and rural bus transportation, private charter, and scenic/sightseeing transportation.   

In addition to driving, people in this field may be asked to regularly clean vehicles and inspect them for problems, provide information and/or assistance to passengers, collect payments, and record operational or transactional data. Communication skills are valuable for the customer service aspect of this role. 

To qualify for this position, candidates must have a high school diploma (or equivalent) and a commercial driver’s license (CDL). To legally transport more than 15 passengers at a time, drivers must earn a license called a passenger endorsement certification in addition to their CDL. This requires them to pass a separate medical examination, written test, and road test.  

Because their work involves transporting passengers, they must also pass a criminal background check, possess a clean driving record, and meet specific health, hearing, and vision requirements — which can vary slightly by employer.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual pay for bus drivers in 2021 was $53,920, although pay may vary by industry and location. Drivers employed by state and local governments typically receive the highest compensation.

Delivery Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales Employees

These professionals are responsible for picking up, transporting, and dropping off packages and small shipments within a specific region or area. They are most commonly employed by restaurants and couriers, as well as wholesale and retail traders. Their work primarily consists of transporting merchandise from distribution centers to homes and/or businesses in light trucks.  

In addition to driving, people in these roles are often tasked with loading and unloading cargo from vehicles, which can be very heavy. Depending on their industry, they may also be asked to make deliveries early in the morning or late at night. This schedule, coupled with the need to meet strict delivery deadlines while navigating variable traffic conditions, can make their work stressful and physically demanding.   

Because of these challenges, discipline, patience, and stress management are all valuable skills in the delivery field, and candidates with military experience may be better suited for these roles than the general population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers in 2021 was $36,660.

To qualify for this position, candidates need a current driver’s license in the state where they want to work, as well as a clean driving record. Most employers provide new delivery truck drivers and driver/sales employees with supervised on-the-job training, where they can get comfortable operating the truck, and learn about company policies, protocols, and product offerings. 

Diesel Service Technicians and Mechanics

Diesel service technicians and mechanics are responsible for inspecting, repairing, and overhauling vehicles with diesel engines. These professionals may work for auto body repair shops, but are more commonly employed by trucking and wholesale trade companies, as diesel engines are used more frequently in large vehicles.

Diesel engines last longer than other types because of their durable components and low RPM operation, but there are many unique considerations related to their operation and maintenance. Because of this, some employers prefer candidates who have specialized postsecondary education in diesel engine repair. 

Educational programs cover how diesel engines work, and how they should be cleaned, repaired, and maintained. They provide students with guided hands-on experience diagnosing and repairing common diesel engine problems.  

Candidates without postsecondary education will usually need to receive extensive on-the-job training before they are considered journey-level technicians. This will help them get familiar with the types of diesel engines that they may be working with. 

For example, technicians who service construction or military equipment would learn about the maintenance and repair of Cummins N14 engines, while those who work on medium-duty trucks might focus more on ISC 8.3L engines or ISL 8.9L engines, which are more commonly used in medium-duty vehicles.  

Technicians who service delivery vans or “bread trucks” would likely study engines such as the Cummins 4BT. If their role involves working with vehicles like buses or Freightliner trucks, they will likely practice working on larger engines like the Detroit series 60 or the DD15 long block

Diesel service technicians and mechanics usually work in garages, but may also need to repair vehicles on job sites or on the side of the road, depending on their industry and employer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for diesel service technicians and mechanics in 2021 was $48,690.

Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

Sometimes called “long-haul truckers,” these professionals transport goods to different locations, often on long-distance routes that can take days or weeks to complete. They are most commonly employed by trucking and wholesale trade companies, but they also frequently work in manufacturing and construction.  

In addition to driving long distances, truckers are responsible for keeping their cargo secure and ensuring that their trucks are in working order. They are usually asked to perform thorough inspections of their vehicles before and after each trip, and they must be able to accurately identify defects.  

To legally operate tractor-trailers, all truckers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL); additional licensing and background checks are required to transport certain types of hazardous freight, such as gas and oil tanks. Truckers must also maintain a clean driving record and agree to random drug and alcohol testing.  

Once hired, truckers are typically given several weeks of on-the-job training by their new employer, during which they work under the supervision of a more experienced professional who helps familiarize them with their vehicle and the cargo they’ll be transporting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in 2021 was $48,310.

Heavy Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Service Technicians

These professionals are responsible for inspecting, repairing, and maintaining heavy vehicles and machinery. They commonly work for farm equipment wholesalers, government agencies, construction companies, and civil engineering firms. They often work in repair shops, but may need to travel to different sites to fix vehicles or equipment that are too heavy for transport. 

Their duties consist of cleaning and performing scheduled maintenance on equipment, interpreting blueprints and operating manuals, identifying the causes of malfunctions, and repairing or replacing broken parts. Their work often requires them to overhaul and test the major components of heavy machines, such as engines and hydraulic systems.  

Because of the complicated and potentially hazardous nature of their jobs, many employers require entry-level heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians to complete a postsecondary training program in an area such as heavy equipment mechanics or diesel technology. In most cases, new hires will also receive some amount of on-the-job training before they are considered fully qualified.  

Prospective candidates can also obtain additional certifications from specific equipment manufacturers. While not essential for finding work, these credentials help candidates showcase their skills to employers and increase their earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians in 2021 was $53,770.

How To Get a Commercial Driver’s License

A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a specialized license issued in the U.S. that permits the holder to operate large and heavy vehicles. Possession of a CDL is a legal requirement for many notable transportation industry careers.  

Because CDL requirements vary by state, the first step toward obtaining one is to get a copy of your state CDL manual, which can be found online or in person at the Motor Vehicle Commission offices.  

During this process, it’s important to consider which type of vehicle you plan on driving for your job, as additional permits or “endorsements” are needed to operate certain types of large vehicles, including tank trucks, school buses, and any vehicle that transports hazardous material. To earn each endorsement, you’ll need to pass an additional skills test that relates to that specific area.  

Once you’ve mapped out your path, the next step is to obtain a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). This will allow you to legally drive large vehicles if a qualified CDL driver is with you. To earn a CLP, you’ll need to pass a knowledge test, a medical examination, and a background check that includes the last 10 years of your driving record.  

After acquiring a CLP, CDL candidates must then complete entry-level driver training. The criteria for completion of this training varies by state, so it’s important to check your state’s specific laws. After you’ve had your CLP for 14 days, you will become eligible for the CDL skills test.  

This test is comprised of three parts: vehicle inspection, basic controls test, and road test. If you pass all three tests, your state MVC will process your documentation and issue you a CDL. To find work, you’ll need to pass a background check and drug screening before you can begin driving professionally. 

Paying for Classes, Courses, and Education

Meeting the educational and licensing requirements for a career in transportation can seem like a daunting task, but there are ways to make it easier and more affordable. The exact credentials you have to earn will vary depending on your desired career path, but there are a variety of resources that can help veterans pay for different types of training, including the GI Bill. 

Eligible veterans can receive free or subsidized vocational training (including CDL training) through the GI Bill, provided the trade school in question is a GI Bill-approved institution. The VA also offers other education benefits and services for qualified veterans, such as scholarships and personalized career planning.   

In addition to government assistance programs, there are also a number of charitable organizations that can help veterans cover the cost of education, such as the Imagine America Foundation, which offers tuition grants to eligible veterans attending college or trade school. Many employers in the transportation industry also provide special services to veterans, such as free in-house CDL training. 

Federal Transportation Initiatives

To address the growing nationwide demand for transportation professionals, various federal government departments have developed initiatives to expand access to affordable transportation career training and education. Many of these programs are specifically intended to serve the needs of veterans:

Department of Defense

The following DoD-sponsored programs are intended to provide career assistance and training for transitioning veterans: 

  • Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL): Through this resource, veterans can learn how to transfer their military-related skills and experience into professional credentials.
  • MilGears: A professional development tool that generates personalized career paths for veterans based on their military training and experience. 
  • SkillBridge: This program provides access to career training and development programs to soldiers who are within six months of completing their service, enabling them to transition more smoothly into the professional world. 
  • Soldier for Life Program: This program helps connect employers and job seekers with veteran-focused hiring events.
  • Marine for Life Network: This program provides marines and their family members with a variety of career-building resources and information about employment opportunities.
  • DoD Transition Assistance: The Department of Defense (DoD) offers service-specific transition programs for each military branch. Veterans can learn about career and education opportunities such as fellowships, employment workshops, and hiring events.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The following VA-backed initiatives provide career training and support for veterans and their families:

  • Veteran Readiness and Employment Program (VR&E): This program provides rehabilitation services and employment assistance to veterans with service-connected disabilities. Participants in this program are assigned a trained vocational rehabilitation counselor who will help them identify a career path that suits their needs and assist them in finding employment within that field.
  • Educational and Training (GI Bill Benefits) Program: This resource helps veterans determine how to obtain free or subsidized education and job training using their GI Bill benefits.
  • Yellow Ribbon Program: This program was created to help veterans pay for education costs not covered by the post-911 GI Bill, including tuition for out-of-state and private institutions.

Department of Labor

The following job training and assistance programs for veterans and their families are available through the Department of Labor:

  • Transition Assistance Program (TAP): This program provides a variety of informational resources for transitioning veterans and their families, including skills tests and qualification guides for specific career paths.
  • Registered Apprenticeship Program: Provides veterans with apprenticeship opportunities where they can gain work experience, and acquire real industry-recognized credentials.
  • VETS: Veterans’ Employment and Training (VETS) is a program that helps veterans transition into the professional world by providing them with a variety of services; including informational resources, workplace advocacy, and networking opportunities.
  • 90-Day Trucking Apprenticeship Challenge: Created by a partnership between the DOL and the White House, this initiative was developed to expand access to trucking internship programs, and accelerate the hiring of qualified professionals throughout the industry.
  • HIRE Vets Medallion Program: This resource is intended to incentivize the hiring of veterans and help veterans find military-friendly employers.

Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

The following DOT-backed programs are specifically designed to help veterans train for and obtain careers in the transportation industry: 

  • Skills Test Waiver Program: Through this program, veterans with at least two years of experience safely operating heavy military vehicles can acquire their commercial driver’s license (CDL) without taking the skills test. It is available for qualified veterans in all 50 states.
  • Even Exchange Program (Knowledge Test Waiver): This program allows veterans in some states to bypass the knowledge test required for their CDL if they meet certain qualifications. Currently, 18 states are participating in this program, with 11 more working on its implementation.
  • Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) Operator Safety Grant Program: Established in 2005 through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, this program issues grants to expand the availability of CDL training, and help veterans and their spouses successfully enter the transportation industry.

Additional Career Resources for Veterans

Readjusting to civilian life after service can be difficult, regardless of your desired career path. Fortunately, there are a significant number of programs designed to help veterans comfortably move into lucrative roles: 

  • Boots to Suits: A program that provides eligible veterans with complementary clothing for job interviews. 
  • G.I. Jobs: A career site that helps veterans connect with military-friendly employers, recruiters, and educational institutions. 
  • Hire Veterans: An online job marketplace for veterans and veteran-friendly employers. 
  • Hiring Our Heroes: Career resource sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Here, veterans can view job postings, and learn about networking opportunities, hiring events, and fellowship programs.
  • My Next Move: An online resource that helps veterans learn more about different career paths and their respective education/training requirements

These programs were specifically developed to help veterans find steady, fulfilling careers while dealing with the nuances and challenges of transitioning back into the professional world.

Additional Transportation Resources

The following programs are not exclusively veteran-focused, but they can still serve as valuable resources for anyone interested in pursuing a transportation career:

  • Job Corps: A free vocational training program for young adults ages 16 to 24, sponsored by the Department of Labor. Job Corps offers training courses for a variety of different transportation careers.  
  • Women in Trucking: A charitable organization that provides training and scholarship opportunities to women interested in the trucking industry.
  • ASE: The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is a non-profit organization that offers testing and certification services for automotive professionals. Their website contains a variety of test prep and training resources for aspiring automotive technicians.  

Veterans are highly valued in the transportation industry, which is why corporations and the government work so hard to train and recruit them for transportation and trucking-related careers. Because of this joint effort, entering the transportation industry has never been easier and more affordable for veterans and their families.  

Additionally, the increasing demand for trucking and transportation careers is evidence that transportation career paths can offer long-term stability for veterans and their families. Veterans who are interested in diesel engineering, trucking, and other careers in transportation should explore the resources in this article to learn more about their options for education, training, and employment.

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