Freight is a dynamic and rewarding industry worth almost $900 billion annually. It offers exciting challenges, mental stimulation, and good pay rates. One way to get your start in the shipping industry is to become a truck dispatcher.
Dispatchers play a key role in getting trucks out to collect and deliver loads for businesses shipping goods. Like so many of the jobs in the freight industry, dispatching can be lucrative. It takes a keen eye for detail and an organized mind to be successful in the role. If you have those qualities, this might be a career worth pursuing.
What is a truck dispatcher?
A truck dispatcher tells freight carriers where to be, when to be there, and what to pick up. Also known as freight dispatchers, truck dispatchers talk to the shipping client to get cargo details, organize a pick-up time, and note any special handling or delivery requirements. The dispatcher then sets up routes, also known as shipping lanes, and coordinates with fleet drivers to make those pick-ups and deliveries.
What is the difference between a freight broker and a truck dispatcher?
Freight brokers manage the relationship between shippers and carriers by acting as a bridge between them. They also work on behalf of shippers to find carriers and negotiate rates. But brokers don’t usually organize the physical pickup and delivery process.
Freight dispatchers (AKA truck dispatchers) do organize the physical process of shipping cargo. A broker sits between shippers and carriers, while a freight dispatcher works more closely with the carrier.
A broker’s primary function is business development. They help truck drivers and transport companies find more loads to carry, while also helping shippers reduce their costs and negotiate the best possible rate.
A truck dispatcher’s primary function is execution. They are the ones who organize schedules and routes and dispatch drivers to fulfill shipments.
Sometimes these roles and responsibilities overlap, but they are fundamentally different. A freight broker is more like a hockey team’s general manager, while a freight dispatcher is more like a coach. Both play an important role, but a dispatcher has a more hands-on role on the front lines, while the broker is more back-of-house.
For example, an independent broker might reach out to a freight company for a client who needs to ship a trailer of vegetables. They’ll negotiate the rates and pass all the details of the job on to the shipping company. A truck dispatcher working for the shipping company then takes that information and works with the broker or the client to schedule the vegetables’ pick-up. They also dispatch their driver to complete the job.
How much can a truck dispatcher make?
As of May 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that dispatchers in the transport trucking industry make an average hourly rate of $21.96. Looking at annual salary, that same report shows a median of $45,670 among freight dispatchers. The best-paid truck dispatchers can make more than $35 an hour, or more than $70,000 per year. There are more than 40,000 truck dispatchers in the U.S.A.
How stable is a truck dispatch job?
Demand for freight dispatchers is only going up for the foreseeable future. The American Truck Association says the U.S. freight shipping industry will grow more than 35% over the next decade. They expect overall freight revenue to increase from $879 billion in 2020 to more than $1.4 trillion by 2031.
That outlook means freight dispatchers can expect solid job security and stability. Becoming a truck dispatcher is a good entry level position in the shipping industry. They often go on to become freight agents, freight brokers, or start their own shipping companies. Some move behind the wheel and become owner-operator transport drivers. Once you have a good grounding in the industry, it’s easier to move up into higher-paying shipping careers.
Roles and responsibilities of a truck dispatcher
Truck dispatchers are usually employed directly by a shipping company or an owner-operator. They could be employed by a freight company to coordinate a set portfolio of shipping lanes. Or they might be a spouse or relative of a transport truck driver, handling logistics for a sole proprietor. Some truck dispatchers work freelance for multiple trucking companies as independent freight dispatchers.
Regardless of who a dispatcher works for, the main tasks are generally the same. Key roles of a freight dispatcher include:
- Schedule pickups and deliveries. This involves speaking directly with the client, usually by phone or email, to arrange a cargo pickup time. Dispatchers also communicate with the company or people receiving the cargo to organize the drop-off.
- Organize routes. The predetermined route that a transport operator drives is also called a shipping lane. The truck dispatcher often sets up these routes, which help determine the delivery time.
- Work with drivers and customers. Both pickup and delivery times can change according to road conditions, obstacles, or customer requests. The dispatcher has to work with both the drivers and the customer to make sure the freight arrives on time at the right location.
- Keep documents and records. Truck dispatchers maintain the records for all jobs, times, routes, and special handling requirements. They produce and distribute freight documents and instructions to drivers. Dispatchers also manage the repair and maintenance logs and driver training and licensing records.
- Invoice customers. Dispatchers also manage billing and issue invoices for cargo shipments, including any additional charges or disbursements, like toll fees or levies.
In addition to those key duties, freight dispatchers monitor the performance and health of the drivers in the fleet. The responsibilities of a truck dispatcher include:
- Health and safety. Dispatchers manage timelines and workload so that drivers take adequate breaks and maintain their health.
- Customer satisfaction. They track and log customer complaints, as well as record late arrivals.
- Efficiency. Truck dispatchers look for ways to save time and money by consolidating loads and routes where possible. They also monitor weather and traffic conditions to guide their drivers to the best routes.
Skills you need to be a successful truck dispatcher.
The best truck dispatchers have a mix of interpersonal and analytical skills that help them solve problems in every section of the supply chain. Because they review hundreds of documents and reports for errors, they also need a keen eye for detail.
People skills are important because drivers, shipping customers, and cargo recipients have different goals and priorities. The freight dispatcher has to find a way to satisfy those competing needs and organize everyone to get the job done.
Computer skills are also important. Dispatchers work with a range of programs, including GPS tracking software, Excel spreadsheets, load boards, and customer relationship management (CRM) tools.
Freight dispatchers should also have solid analytical skills. They have to make independent decisions about the best routes and drivers for a particular job and be ready to problem-solve when issues come up. Dispatchers need to have a good sense of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit in order to quickly respond to changes or customer requests.
6 steps to become an independent truck dispatcher
Many truck dispatchers are employed directly by a shipping company. These might be small or large companies with one or multiple trucks. If you are employed directly, you could be one of many working for the same freight carrier. But usually, the best-paid freight dispatchers are independent operators. They work with multiple shipping companies and take a cut of each load from those carriers.
Step 1: Complete education and training.
You don’t need formal certification to become a freight dispatcher. But it does help to have a high school graduate diploma or a GED. Earning an associate degree in shipping, logistics, or project management gives you a foundation in the industry and makes you more marketable to shipping companies. Any course, certificate, or degree that builds your management, problem-solving, and analytical skills helps.
Step 2: Get industry experience.
Before branching out on your own, consider applying for jobs as a truck dispatcher for a freight company. You can also complete internships and training programs with carriers to get better informed about the industry.
Step 3: Hone your skills.
Use your time in entry-level jobs or as an intern to hone and develop your skills. Research Department of Transportation regulations and rules, take online courses and be curious. Look up and explore all the different roles in the logistics industry and how they fit together. A mentor can help you find your way. If you know someone in the industry already, ask them for some guidance. You can even work with them while you develop your craft.
Step 4: Register your business.
When you’re ready to branch out on your own, you’ll need to choose a name for your company, make sure it isn’t already in use, and register your business. You can operate as a sole proprietor, but it’s a good idea to register your operation as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). An LLC helps protect your personal assets if something goes wrong with your business.
Step 5: Subscribe to a quality load board.
If you want to be a truck dispatcher, you have to find drivers to dispatch and loads for them to move. Signing up with a load board gives you access to both.
Step 6: Connect with shippers and brokers.
Shippers are the companies who have freight they need drivers to pick up and transport. Brokers are the middlemen between carriers and shippers. As a freight dispatcher, you’re effectively working as the manager for the carrier, so you need to connect with shippers and brokers to find jobs for your drivers. As you make contacts with more shippers and brokers, you will have more loads to dispatch, and more routes to manage, which is where you’ll make your money.
How load boards can help truck dispatchers find loads
Load boards are a type of online marketplace. Companies post cargo they need to be transported on the board, hoping a carrier will take the job on. Meanwhile, carriers of all types — whether they’re owner-operators or larger transport companies — are constantly bidding for work on the boards and advertising their services. Freight brokers are also on the boards, and you can work with them to organize pick-ups for your drivers.
The best load boards update in real-time, so you can act fast to secure jobs and dispatch trucks to them. You can use the Truckstop.com Load Board to manage all your pick-ups and even mix and combine routes to make sure you’re serving clients efficiently.
To use a load board:
- Go to Truckstop.com.
- Sign up for an account.
- Select the load board that meets the needs of your fleet.
- Bid on jobs and begin to organize pick-ups.
Want to see how it works? Schedule a free demo.