Columbus resident Tony Lieggi ended up in Wisconsin because of the shape of a truck.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Lieggi was encouraged to learn a trade. An infomercial for a local trucking school in the middle of the night sparked his interest. One day during a recruitment fair at his trucking school, Amherst-based H.O. Wolding trucking company was on site. Their trucks had a distinctive pointed, aerodynamic shape on the top of the cab.

“I just thought their trucks were really cool looking, and I became obsessed with getting hired by them,” said Lieggi, who now lives in Columbus.

After persistently calling the company, he started his truck driving career there in 1991. He spent decades as an over-the-road (OTR), or long-haul, trucker for several Wisconsin businesses.

Now 47, Lieggi is the local operations manager for Deerfield-based BCP Transportation, which hauls OTR, regionally and locally. Along with dispatching — scheduling trucks, booking freight, overseeing maintenance and hiring drivers — he drives UW-Madison Badgers football equipment to away games.

There’s a shortage of OTR truck drivers, who haul loads across the country for up to weeks at a time. In fact, the trucking industry nationwide needs to hire nearly 900,000 drivers over the next decade, according to industry group American Trucking Associations (ATA). Among the reasons cited by the group: a solid economy, an aging workforce and resistance to the federally mandated transition to electronic logging devices, which monitor truckers’ schedules.

In the United States, more than 70 percent of consumer goods are transported by truck, ATA data show. Truckers who obtain their commercial driver’s licenses are virtually guaranteed a job. But some people shy away from a career that requires being away from home for long stretches.

Pay in the industry is rising to account for lackluster interest. The job pays $33,000 to $63,000 in southwestern Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. But Lieggi said a dedicated trucker, paid by the mile, can bring home up to $90,000 annually. And drivers who begin as OTR truckers with seniority may be able to graduate into regional and local driving if their company has those options, the ATA said.

There are a few requirements to obtaining a Class A commercial driver’s license to drive a truck and trailer. First off, a permit. For that, the Department of Transportation requires a physical and drug screening. Next comes training. Potential OTR truckers typically attend trucking schools or technical colleges in order to pass the written, road and skills tests.

Students learn how to drive in different areas, from open interstates to cramped cities. They also learn how to back up a trailer — a crucial skill. In addition, trucking students must closely monitor the passenger vehicles around them.

Trucking schools, like Sun Prairie’s DDS Diesel Truck Driver Training School, offer shorter programs — just four weeks. These students may need to attend a finishing school provided by their employer.

Trade schools, such as Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, offer longer-term programs — theirs is 10 weeks — and a technical degree upon completion. These drivers are often in higher demand because they have more experience.

In addition to his day-to-day office work as a local dispatcher, Lieggi’s duties expand during the Badgers’ football season.

For away games, Lieggi and a relief driver load the UW football equipment, from practice equipment to uniforms, into a trailer and get a few days’ head start, depending on the location of the game.

When the truck arrives, Lieggi meets up with the Badgers’ advance team to unload and set up the sidelines and locker room. After the game, they load up and drive back to Madison immediately, unloading the equipment on arrival.

“It’s a pretty cool experience,” said Lieggi, whose fourth football season begins in the fall.

OTR trucking is as much a lifestyle as a job. It means long stretches away from home that require discipline to complete deliveries. When he was on the road full time, Lieggi was gone for up to 10 days, driving 400 to 600 miles a day along the East Coast, before returning home for three to four days.

OTR trucking can be lonely, Lieggi said, but he made friends at regular fuel stops. He called his young children nightly around dinner time. Now, modern technology like cellphones and social media can make separation easier on drivers.

“If you treat truck driving like a normal job — you’re in that truck to work, you get up in the morning, you go to work, you have a meal, you go to bed, you do whatever you do to release your tension, you get up and you do it again the next day — it’s a pretty cool life,” he said. “You wake up, you’re somewhere different.”

“If you treat truck driving like a normal job ... it’s a pretty cool life. You wake up, you’re somewhere different.” Tony Lieggi

“Shifting Careers” is an occasional series about occupations with good job prospects for those considering a change. To see other installments, go to go.madison.com/shift.

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