ACM Report: AVs May be Less Disruptive to Trucking Jobs Than Expected

The advent of autonomous vehicles is expected to drastically change the transportation industry and affect those who work in it, but perhaps not as significantly as once thought, according to a new report commissioned by the American Center for Mobility.

The study, which looked at potential impacts over the next decade, was funded by Waymo, ACM, AARP, and the Toyota Research Institute.

The report, led by Michigan State University and supported by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, found that, despite analyst concerns, a relatively small number of truck driver jobs would be affected by a rise in self-driving cars.

“We expected the greatest impact of autonomous vehicles to be on truckers, so that was a surprise,” says Soraya Kim, chief innovation officer at ACM, which is located outside of Ann Arbor, MI. “The study found that out of 3.5 million driving jobs [nationwide], once you consider all the other factors, only a modest number of drivers would be displaced, and that wouldn’t happen until the end of the decade.”

Kim says that while trucking jobs might evolve and require new skills in the future, ACM considers that to be supplementing current work rather than eliminating it. “There may be more jobs in areas like logistics coordination or data entry, but we don’t see truck drivers as being completely displaced,” she adds.

Kim says there will always be circumstances in which humans are required to move cargo, such as when the contents are especially hazardous or precious. The U.S. trucking industry is already short 50,000 drivers, and because of that shortage, new mobility technologies have the potential to make truck drivers’ lives easier rather than render their jobs obsolete, the report found. “Displacement will be relatively gradual at the end of the decade,” she predicts.

However, the ACM report did find that the impact of autonomous vehicles on passenger vehicle drivers—mainly taxicab drivers—will be “moderate to high” once driverless cars are deployed in significant numbers, likely at the end of the 2020s. The report’s findings also suggest that limousine and bus drivers whose work requires face-to-face interaction or passenger assistance, such as paratransit, are less likely to be displaced by automated vehicles in the foreseeable future. Humans will still be needed for those service roles even if they’re no longer focused on driving, Kim says.

The report didn’t delve into potential job creation sparked by autonomous vehicles, but Kim says that early industry feedback indicates mobility workers will need to have multidisciplinary skills—a  background in systems engineering as well as data analysis, for example. Kim says ACM is actively working with a 15-university academic consortium as well as its industry partners to develop workforce development and retraining programs.

“There’s a tremendous talent gap now with so many jobs unfilled across the country,” Kim points out. “We need to figure out how to fill that need.”

“This level of advanced technology has the potential to lead to the creation of thousands of new jobs in the engineering, data analysis, cybersecurity and vehicle ‘monitoring’ areas,” Shelia Cotten, the MSU Foundation professor who led the research, said in a statement. “Based on data collected from industry experts during the study, there is already a significant demand in several of these areas related to AVs.”

ACM and the study authors recommend conducting additional research asking vehicle operators in different workforce sectors what training they would be interested in pursuing; identifying the specific skills needed to facilitate the development and adoption of AVs; establishing training programs to meet those needs quickly; and further research to quantify the overall impact of autonomous vehicles on the economy as a whole.

Autonomous technologies will also change the way maintenance workers and other automotive technicians do their jobs, the report found, and the industry needs to prepare for that through retraining and other workforce development initiatives.

“We see lots of new technician jobs coming down the pike,” Kim says.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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