As the industrial sphere becomes increasingly automated, employment in the transportation sector will take a big hit. A recent report from Goldman Sachs Economic Research predicted that self-driving technology could cost America’s professional drivers up to 25,000 jobs a month, or 300,000 jobs a year.
Autonomous vehicle makers are paying more attention to the trucking industry, as trucks typically travel on highways or fixed routes that make automation relatively easy. Automation is also being turned to as a potential solution to the much-discussed driver shortage.
Many companies have been working on driverless trucks, including Kodiak Robotics, Starsky Robotics, Peleton, Einride, Tesla, Volvo, Daimler, and, until recently, Uber.
While some of these semi-trucks are designed to be completely driverless, others will have a driver sitting in the back of the cab, where they can sleep or catch up on paperwork until they’re needed for complex maneuvering. Drivers may even be located elsewhere, such a call center, where they can operate trucks by remote control when necessary.
Navistar CEO Troy Clarke testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that truck drivers will become more like highly trained and skilled airline pilots. For instance, a driver may be monitoring not only their own truck but also several “platooning trucks” under their watch.
But it’s not just about the truckers. Anyone who drives for a living — bus drivers, taxi drivers, and even the meal couriers who are currently experiencing a major boom in cities all around the world — may eventually find themselves replaced by autonomous vehicles.
Drivers Missing From “Jobs of the Future Index”
Recently, Cognizant identified 50 “jobs of the future” and has tracked demand for these 50 roles in the U.S. since the third quarter of 2016 for its “Jobs of the Future Index (CJoF Index).” Cognizant’s criteria for determining which “futuristic” jobs would make the list included:
- Occupations that are expected to grow.
- Occupations that are integral to industries that are expected to grow and transform.
- Occupations that require digital technology skills on top of traditional skills.
Drivers certainly meet the first two criteria, although digital skills are not yet needed for a typical truck driving position. Nevertheless, Cognizant’s decision to exclude drivers from its list of futuristic transport jobs is notable.
The four related occupations that made the list included:
- Aerospace engineers — designers of aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft — with a 27% increase in job postings over 12 months.
- Avionics technicians — installers, repairers, and maintainers of electronic systems in aircraft and spacecraft — with 71% more job postings.
- Urban/transportation planners — planners and designers of projects that maintain or improve transportation, economic development, housing, and environmental issues — increasing by 136%.
- Transportation supervisors — overseeing transportation services for companies by assigning and directing drivers, coordinating transportation schedules, and monitoring delivery vehicles — with 141% more job postings over 12 months.
Cognizant reports that the overall transport category increased by 61%, from 1,600 job postings in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2017 to 2,600 job postings in Q4 2018.
Private Companies Driving Demand
Demand for aerospace engineers and avionics technicians is expected to increase as aircraft are being redesigned to result in less noise pollution and improved fuel efficiency.
Joining the likes of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin, new spacecraft-building companies continue to emerge, driving demand for tech- and digital-savvy talent.
Transportation Planners Turn to Artificial Intelligence
Demand for transportation planners and supervisors will continue to grow as cities become more congested. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) has dramatically altered these professions, with traffic experts now working with AI-boosted smart traffic systems, such as Alibaba’s “City Brain” in Hangzhou, China.
City Brain has reportedly reduced congestion dramatically in Hangzhou. The city, which was once the fifth-most congested in China, is now the 57th. Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia is using a similar system, and Volkswagen and Siemens are trialing a smart traffic system in Germany.
These systems tap into data streams, such as GPS tracking of vehicles and video cameras at intersections, to coordinate road signals around the city, preventing or easing gridlock in real time.
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