Many industry observers believe #autonomous vehicles will eliminate hundreds of thousands of North American jobs.
Others contend that this view is simplistic and ill-informed, that the long-haul truckers’ job, for example, will not disappear anytime soon. Moreover, they believe autonomous technology will, in the years ahead, transform the truck driver into a tech-savvy logistics manager.
Such an outcome could make the job more attractive to younger workers and help solve the industry’s perennial problem of attracting and retaining drivers.
See Bloomberg Business’s video report showing partially automated Daimler’s #Freightliner Inspiration Truck in action.
The job defined
- There are approximately 3.5 million #professional truck drivers in the United States, according to the #American Trucking Association, and an estimated 300,000 professional truck drivers in Canada.
- The trucker’s job is a difficult one – so-so pay, long hours on the road, and an unhealthy lifestyle. This had led to significant churn in industry employment.
Job loss predictions
The #Canadian Council of Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators said in a study last year that autonomous vehicles “will disrupt the labour market. Long-term impacts on sectors that depend on current transportation models including vehicle manufacturing, taxi services and auto insurance, are anticipated.
“There are estimates that automated vehicles could displace more than 500,000 Canadians who currently earn their living driving a vehicle.
“Potentially displaced categories of workers include: transport, truck and courier service drivers, taxi/bus and tow truck drivers, traffic police, auto insurance agents, driving instructors and parking attendants.”
Two U.S. politicians — Senators Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) — have asked the nation’s Government Accountability Office to look at how autonomous truck technology could have the potential to displace transportation industry workers.
The senators noted, “Technology has made America’s manufacturing sector more productive than ever before, but millions of blue-collar manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation.
“Similarly, the transition to automated vehicles raises questions about the future of the commercial trucking industry and its impact on our national and regional economies and workforce.”
Brookings Institution says current conversation underestimates driving complexities
However, The #Brookings Institution, in a March 2017 research paper, said such predictions are off the mark. “In many ways, the current conversation on the trucking industry tends to overemphasize the technology and over-simplify the complex set of labour concerns, where many jobs are not likely to disappear anytime soon.
“Similar to most infrastructure jobs, truck drivers depend on a wide range of skills to carry out their jobs everyday…Not surprisingly, many of these drivers are not simply sitting behind the wheel all day on auto drive. They also inspect their freight loads, fix equipment, make deliveries and perform other non-routine tasks.”
With greater automation of trucking, “many new complementary jobs may emerge over time, requiring new skill-sets to oversee these new trucks and complete other non-automated tasks to support them.”
The #American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) said in a November 2016 research document that high-level, but not fully automated, trucks could make truck driving a more attractive career, relieving some of the stress and monotony of driving for long hours and allowing drivers to work on tasks such as logistics while the vehicle is moving.
Level 3 and Level 4 technologies “may make the driver career…attractive to younger, tech-savvy populations. Carriers with Autonomous Truck (AT) systems may also be able to attract drivers away from carriers that do not employ AT.”
Levels 3 and 4 defined
- Level 3 – Conditional Automation: The automated driving system controls all aspects of driving, with the human driver expected to respond appropriately if necessary.
- Level 4 – High Automation: The automated driving system controls all aspects of the driving task, with the driver capable of leaving his or her seat, under certain environments and conditions.
Drivers will continue to have multi-task responsibilities
Even in a highly-automated environment, says ATRI, there are a number of critical freight movement tasks that will still be required of commercial drivers, including:
- Shipper/client relationship
- Equipment management
- Route management
- Cargo management
- Regulatory compliance
Canadian trucking industry refutes job loss notion
David Bradley, president of the #Canadian Trucking Alliance, underscored the continuing importance of the truck driver in a letter he wrote last fall to Canadian Finance Minister #Bill Morneau to dispel the minister’s view that automation would result in the wholesale loss of trucking jobs.
Bradley, as have others, insisted automation would transform, but not eliminate, the trucker’s job.
And he held that automation will not solve to the driver shortage issue – the trucking industry forecasts a #shortage of 48,000 truck drivers in Canada by 2024, with the gap between supply and demand for drivers escalating faster than industry analysts had previously thought.
“Rather than disappearing, the number of truck driving jobs to fill in Canada is going to continue to increase. The industry’s number one priority is seeking to employ more drivers in the future, not fewer.”