Technology continues to evolve and automation is disrupting even more industries. One of the largest ones that could be impacted over the next decade or so will be truck drivers, in particular long haul deliveries. It is estimated that as many as two million jobs could be at risk.
There are more companies working on and investing in driverless technology in 2017. There are huge corporations such as Tesla with their autopilot mode, Otto (which is owned by Uber), Google/Waymo, and many others. Even the major American and European car companies including Ford, Volvo, and General Motors are investing billions of dollars in self-driving technology as well as other forms of automation.
While there is no guarantee that self-driving truck technology will ever come to fruition, we think that is a naive train of thought. The fact is that technology has disrupted almost every other industry and occupation in the United States. Anyone that thinks the trucking industry will not be subject to this is not taking an objective look at the history of this nation.
Just think that today, according to data from the Federal Reserve, manufacturing output is at an almost record high. Factories in the US produce twice as much as they did in 1984, but the number of workers involved in this is ~30% less than in 1984. So how is that possible you say? It is automation. Automation and other forms of technology has allowed the manufacturing sector to produce more than in any point in history, but with 30% less workers. That is an incredible stat. And this type of automation will eventually hit the trucking industry.
Where does trucking automation currently stand?
While there has been no impact to employment levels in 2017 (yet), some experts say it could start to impact employment as early as 2019 or 2020. Even if those experts are wrong, it is a good idea to plan on disruption to the trucking industry sometime during the next decade of the 2020s. We recommend that anyone who drives a vehicle for a living to start to prepare for this inevitable change, as the earlier that preparations are made the better.
So what has occurred to date? Otto has already had a successful test completed. There was a convoy of self—driving trucks that made a delivery on the highways in Nevada, and the distance traveled was 120 miles. Volvo has also has successfully tested the concept of self-driving trucks in the United States. There have also been successful tests completed in Europe, including a convoy/platoon traveling across multiple countries of Germany, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands.
One of the technologies being implemented is called Platooning. There are companies including Peloton which are continuing to test and roll out this technology as 2017 progresses. This involves multiple trucks running in a convoy, with the lead truck setting the pace and the other trucks in the convoy braking, speeding up, and otherwise “imitating” the movements of the lead vehicle. That technology may involve a driver in the lead truck and/or some of the other vehicles in the convoy, but there may be different levels of employment.
Truck drivers should prepare
While there should not be job losses in 2017, as noted above they could start in a very short period of time….more likely years rather than decades. So those 2 million or so people that are driving a truck for a living (or thinking of entering this industry) have been “warned”. Prepare now.
The best thing to do is make yourself more “valuable”. Gain new skills, take classes, and spay up with the latest technology and terminology. Even better, start to prepare for a new career. As the disruption will be massive with millions of workers potentially impacted. Find a listing of resources that can help with job training.
But with change also comes opportunity. So for every truck that is updated with the latest technology, there will be demand for people to be able to fix the computers, program the software, etc. Those skills and careers may very well be high growth, but the number of jobs created will not be close to the number at risk of being lost.