It is an age-old dilemma in the trucking industry: new drivers just out of CDL school cannot find work because they lack experience, yet they cannot get any experience without a job. A few motor carriers have sought to address this dilemma by putting new drivers through training at their own subsidiary schools before bringing them on board as full-time drivers. However, the model has not taken off in flatbed trucking. There is no substitute for experience in the world of flatbeds.

The easiest kind of trucking for new drivers is dry goods hauling. A dry goods van is essentially a box trailer in which all cargo is completely contained. A good portion of the retail freight that crisscrosses American roads is transported via dry goods vans. Flatbed trailers are completely different. Because they have no side or roofs, cargo is not contained in the same, relatively secure environment. Therefore, it has to be secured in place with the use of webbing straps or chains, explains Ohio-based supplier Mytee Products.

Securing cargo to flatbed trailers is where experience really helps. Veteran drivers who know what they are doing can look at just about any load, decide in mere minutes how to best secure it, and then go about the business of doing so in short order. A new driver with little experience may not have such an easy time.

Competition for Experienced Drivers

As there is no substitute for experience in the flatbed arena, the competition for experienced drivers is fierce among the nation’s flatbed motor carriers. How fierce is it? According to CCJ Digital, one well-known Alabama transport company recently announced it would pay a $6,000 signing bonus to flatbed drivers with at least one year of recent flatbed experience. The company’s parent threw in an additional $4,000 in company stock for any new drivers that signed before Christmas.

Let us put that in perspective. The two bonuses combined would effectively put an additional $10,000 in the pocket of a newly signed driver. If the company stock does well enough to generate a modest return of a mere 2% over the next 10 years, that would mean thousands more. That’s not a bad deal for a truck driver whose average annual pay might hover around $50,000.

In addition to the new driver bonus, the Alabama company is also paying bonuses to veteran drivers to reward them for their years of service. Those drivers can earn thousands of dollars in bonus pay just by sticking with their employer. With steady work and a generous bonus program, why would a truck driver want to go anywhere else?

Learning the Flatbed Trade

The extra challenging nature of running flatbeds makes experience even more important for drivers. As such, the new driver dilemma is a problem within the flatbed sector. So what is a new driver to do? There are a couple of different options for learning the flatbed trade in order to compete for the most lucrative jobs.

The first option is to start work as a dry goods van operator in order to get at least a couple of years of driving under the belt. At that point, flatbed carriers are at least willing to look at a driver. In the meantime, the driver can start studying the finer points of flatbed cargo control.

A second option is to look for local flatbed jobs after CDL school. Local motor carriers tend to be less strict about the experience requirement. A willing local carrier can provide an excellent training ground for learning the trade.