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opinions Rolf Lockwood

Job Security?

Posted: September 9, 2016 by Rolf Lockwood

Driver, your job is not at risk. Well, let me qualify that. Unless you’re comprehensively unable to keep ‘er between the poles, you’re safe.

In the immediate future, at least. But in the longer term — call it 20-25 years to take a wild guess — I wouldn’t bet on it. That grace period will be shorter for some specific driving jobs, maybe a lot shorter. For others it will be much longer.

It’s about automation, of course. A recent study, using Canadian stats, uniquely enough, suggested that the role of truck driver is the fifth occupation most likely to be affected adversely by automation between now and 2024. At the top of that list by a wide margin, perhaps not surprisingly, is ‘Retail Salesperson’. Burger flippers and cashiers are also ahead of truck driver in the at-risk category.

Want your kid to have job security in the face of automation? Tell him or her to be a teacher or a nurse. Surprisingly, least at risk is the vaguely defined ‘Retail and Wholesale Trade Manager’. Guess that person is the McDonald’s boss who comes to your aid when you fail miserably on the self-order keyboard. 

That study, by the way, is entitled ‘The Talented Mr. Robot’, published by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, written by Creig Lamb. You can download it via this link, which I’ve shortened just for you… http://tinyurl.com/ja786af

So, what’s going on with automation?

Like every other journalist on the planet, I’ve been writing and reading a lot about autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles in the last couple of years. It’s not just about trucks that can drive themselves. It’s about discovering new technologies and radically new ways to exploit the possible.

Looking at things from an eagle’s perch, the only possible conclusion to be drawn is that we’re in the midst of an industrial revolution. I’m certainly not the first to observe that, not even close, but it’s worth stating here because most ordinary folks are entirely caught up in making a buck and surviving the day. When a spare hour or two appears, analyzing how the world works is always going to take a back seat to popcorn in front of the TV.

But a revolution it is.

A very common response to things I’ve written, first about the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 back in 2014, has come from drivers. ‘Well, there goes my job,’ they say, almost every time.

My usual response is, ‘Not to worry, even these trucks need a driver.’ In fact in some jurisdictions, Germany being one, they presently need two drivers. These are ‘semi’ autonomous, meaning they can’t do it all.

But then there’s the experimentation with wholly autonomous trucks in the Netherlands to ply short routes between container terminals and warehouses. The group in North Dakota and other near states — plus Manitoba — that envisions driverless, tractorless, powered ‘trailers’ running 100% autonomously north-south between automated loading/unloading terminals about 300 km apart. Don’t forget hyperlooping.

Drones will soon be ubiquitous, delivering small packages right to your door, and eventually displacing a lot of package-van drivers. And they’ll get bigger.

Look at Local Motors, a lithe little company based in Maryland but with mini-factories all over the place. They’ve built a 3D-printed, autonomous, 12-seat shuttle bus that will be on the road soon. But here’s the killer: they just won the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge. Their designs are now being turned into a real-life unmanned aerial vehicle that will be used to deliver cargo larger than a box of books. Not huge coils of steel, not yet, but freight that might otherwise move by a truck of some sort.

So yeah, the driving job is safe, and will be for quite a long time overall. But not forever.

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