Is Transportation a Good Career Path?

is transportation a good career path

What is the transportation industry?

The transportation sector encompasses both human transit and the shipping of goods or materials. This includes airlines (both commercial and freight), rail transit, buses, trucking, parcel delivery, shipping, taxis, chauffeurs and ride sharing. Is transportation a good career path? That depends on a number of factors.

The trucking industry alone is worth $800 billion and accounts for 48 percent of the entire transportation sector’s employment. 

The aviation industry employs 62.7 million people. Currently, there is a shortage of both airline pilots and air traffic controllers, with both shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.

What companies are in the transportation field?

UPS is currently the largest transportation company in the world (Amazon being their largest customer). They recently edged out their competitor FedEx for this title. Other transportation giants include Dutch shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk, Taiwanese shipping giant Evergreen Marine (fun fact: operator of the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal in 2021), Chinese company COSCO Shipping and German company Daimler Truck. Rising demand (in part caused by an increase in online shopping) and bottlenecks in the supply chain were a boon for the transportation industry in 2022. 

Other companies in the transportation industry include ride sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, bus companies such as Greyhound, commercial airline companies such as Delta and JetBlue and commercial rail companies like Amtrak.  

How many jobs are available in transportation?

The transportation sector employs more than 13.3 million people and accounts for 9.1 percent of total employment in the United States.

What do transportation jobs pay?

The national average salary for a truck driver is $62,171 per year on average. The projected growth rate for truck driving is 2 percent from 2019 to 2029. This growth rate is slower than the average for all occupations. (All figures in this section from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 estimates.)

Construction laborers, who often work to build tunnels, subways, and other transportation infrastructure, make $73,544 per year on average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth rate for construction laborers is 5 percent from 2019 to 2029.

The national average salary for a taxi driver is $25,717 per year. The expected growth rate for taxi drivers is 20 percent from 2018 to 2028; this is faster than the average for all occupations.

The average salary for a chauffeur is $51,919 per year. The projected growth rate for chauffeurs is 20 percent from 2018 to 2028. The growth rate for ride-share drivers is 37 percent during that same period. The Bureau of Labor Statistics attributes this high growth rate to an increased demand for personal driving. 

Diesel engine mechanics make $50,373 per year on average. Diesel engine mechanics inspect and repair vehicles that have diesel engines. The job growth outlook for this occupation is 3 percent from 2019 to 2029.

The national average salary for a material handler is $29,120 per year. A material handler works with stock and freight, loading or unloading shipments or operating forklifts. The projected growth rate for material handlers is 3 percent from 2019 to 2029. This is on par with the national average.

The average national salary for a bus driver is $37,515 per year. The projected growth rate for bus drivers is 5 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is on par with the national average. 

Flight attendants make $33,781 per year on average. The projected growth rate for flight attendants from 2019 to 2029 is 17 percent. This is much higher than the projected growth rates for other occupations. 

is transportation a good career path

The national average salary for highway maintenance workers is $42,762 per year. Highway maintenance workers maintain roadways, including highways, airport runways and roads. The projected outlook for highway maintenance workers is 5 percent from 2019 to 2029. This is higher than the average. 

The national average salary for a logistics associate Is $44,355 per year. A logistics associate is responsible for organizing and analyzing supply chains for companies, finding strategies to increase efficiency. The projected growth rate for logistics associates is 4 percent from 2019 to 2029.  

Logistics analysts, also known as operations research analysts, make $63,581 per year on average. Logistics analysts analyze supply chains, coming up with strategies to improve efficiency. The growth rate for operations research analysts is 25 percent from 2019 to 2029. This is much higher than the average growth rate for all occupations; this is attributed to a greater demand for increased efficiency and decreased costs. 

What are the best paying jobs in transportation?

The median national salary for commercial airline pilots is $130,440 per year. The projected growth rate for this occupation is 13 percent from 2020 to 2030. This is above average. There are currently 113,900 jobs in this field. (All figures in this section from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 estimates.) This occupation usually requires a bachelor’s degree in transportation, engineering or business, along with flight training with an independent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified flight instructor or flight school.

There is currently a shortage of airline pilots due to an increased number of Boomers reaching retirement age, fewer potential candidates from the military due to increased use of unmanned drones, and many pilots going into early retirement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This could be a boon to wannabe pilots, as airlines compete for pilots by increasing their salary. However, becoming a pilot can cost up to $100,000 and require 1,500 flight hours for certification.  

Air traffic controllers make $130,420 per year on average. This occupation generally only requires an Associate’s degree along with FAA training. There are currently 24,500 air traffic controller jobs in the U.S., with the job growth rate for 2020 to 2030 at a below-average 4 percent. One cause of the current air traffic controller shortage is the onboarding process: applicants are sent to the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center “Academy” in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to essentially be weeded out before being sent to the facilities where there is a need for staff.

Potential air traffic controllers are not in control of where they end up and are often uprooted from their homes and families and are only able to transfer after three years of training. Many drop out during the years-long training process. A staffing shortage has been brewing since Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 air traffic controllers who went on strike in 1981.

What’s more, air traffic control has a high degree of stress. Because of the stress, and because the job requires certain cognitive abilities and reaction time, workers are required to retire by age 56. This is another cause of the staffing shortage. That said, the FAA does skirt the age limit in an attempt to combat the shortage, thus making air travel less safe for everyone. 

Air traffic control provides a good salary, with the downside of potentially uprooting you from your family, putting stress on your mind and body, and other undesirable working conditions both inherent to the job and resulting from the weakness of the current labor union (the old union was dissolved when Reagan broke the strike in 1981). The median annual salary for an air traffic controller is $138,556, but they are often making much less than that, earning as little as $63,000 at a low level facility, with no control over where they are sent to work. 

Railroad workers make a median salary of $64,210 per year. The projected job growth rate is 5 percent for the period between 2020 and 2030; this is below average. There are currently 74,600 jobs in this field. It requires a high school diploma and on-the-job training. 

Water transportation workers make a median salary of $59,250 per year. Water transportation workers operate non-military ships, such as deep-sea container ships, fuel tankers, or bulk containers carrying iron ore or coal. There are currently 66,600 jobs in this field and the occupation has a projected growth rate of 12 percent for the period between 2020 and 2030; this is above average. Water transportation worker jobs have no formal education requirements but often require a Transportation Worker Identification Credential from the Transportation Security Administration plus a Merchant Mariner Credential from the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Is transportation a good career path for you?

Many transportation jobs, such as air traffic controller, railroad worker, construction worker and truck driver offer good pay without requiring a Bachelor’s degree, which could mean incurring less student debt.  

However, jobs such as air traffic controller and construction worker are physically and/or mentally taxing careers that put stress on the mind and body, often forcing early retirement. 

If you enjoy driving, you might consider being a truck driver, chauffeur or Uber or Lyft driver. However, bear in mind that each of these jobs requires unstable schedules and long hours. 

The push for sustainable transportation means many parts of the industry will likely be in flux in the coming decades. Self-driving cars may eliminate many jobs in transportation, including truck driving and Lyft driving. That said, the growth rate for chauffeurs, flight attendants, and even truck drivers is higher than the average for all occupations. 

There are pros and cons to each job, but transportation industry jobs will always be in demand. Everyone’s lives are affected by the transportation industry: when you buy groceries at the store or order consumer electronics on Amazon, every item has been shipped via truck and often by air or sea.