By Andy Bunch
The topic of automation touches every type of job market and where the Kicker Blog is concerned professional driving jobs seem conspicuously next on the chopping block. We’ve covered this topic from both sides of the debate, where the timing is concerned, and concluded that self-driving cars are inevitable but likely not imminent.
Industry expert and LinkedIn influencer Cathy Engelbert has written a great article on the topic based on its impact on the job market and since we’re always scouring the web for people talking about what we’re talking about we’d love to point you at it. For the full article go here. Our executive summary is below.
Automation will impact different job markets differently—there’s no single answer, good or bad. A balanced, fact oriented approach will lead to the most accurate prediction, not the over-enthusiastic or terror approaches that currently dominate the discussion.
Let’s consider a particular case to illustrate these points. When the media cites professions that may decline because of automation, some of the most common are jobs involving the movement of people and goods—trucking, taxis, ride-sharing, and the like. It often makes for good headlines and everyone “gets it” quickly. But the outlook is way more complicated, nuanced, and not necessarily as dire as portrayed.
While roughly 94 Million professional drivers currently answer the needs of moving people and goods, as people work and shop more at home, and cars begin to drive themselves the need for actual drivers will likely decline. However, we have an aging baby-boomer population that will continue to require assistance to live independently. Someone will need to take responsibility for good being delivered long distances and even when city’s become automated it could be years before particularly tricky areas become autonomous friendly. So a whole new industry of driver assistant could pop up. These jobs would require both driving skills as a backup to automation, but also another primary skill, like customer savvy.
If travel becomes cheaper and easier through automation, the demand will rise. This could lead to jobs serving the transportation industry in other ways. Roadway systems could wear out faster-increasing maintenance. Logistics to get people and items to destinations will likely increase. Automation could result in more interesting, less fatiguing labor that in turn causes reduced turn over and more interest in younger workers. This could mean that as the driving workforce loses workers to retirement it gains a lesser number of replacements who stay longer. Since currently there are nearly a million drivers needed it’s not likely that thousands of long-haul truckers will suddenly be out of work, which is the picture shoved at them by media daily.
So the conclusion is that the best predictor of what will happen as driving jobs are automated is the way automation has impacted other areas. A net reduction in the number of workers needed to produce the same output, which is felt heavily in industries that suffer an overall decline and not at all in industries that with growing demand over all. Jobs that are retained require more technical training and skill but are more interesting to do, and less physically dangerous. As a result, there’s no basis to fear going into an industry because the field won’t exist in 10 years. Some workers will need to make a lateral move and others will move up. Still, others will age out and retire. What isn’t likely? That professional drivers will become suddenly obsolete.