Report: Autonomous trucks to steal some driving jobs, create others

A report issued this week by the U.C. Berkley Center for Labor Research and Education presents a somewhat bleak outlook for the future of some truck driving jobs whenever autonomous trucks come to market. However, the report indicates, self-driving trucks could create new driving jobs — perhaps even more than they displace.

The research, conducted by University of Pennsylvania Sociologist Steve Viscelli, did not offer a timeline for when these shifts could take place, only forecasting the potential for automated tech to be a major disruptor in the trucking industry as the technology is deployed. An estimated 211,000 long-haul jobs in the full truckload segment could be displaced from autonomous trucks, the report predicts.

“These drivers rarely perform work such as loading and unloading or caring for special kinds of freight. These characteristics make their jobs more likely to be automated,” Viscelli writes, “… working conditions in this segment are arduous, and turnover is high.”

Viscelli forecasts “significant job loss” in less-than-truckload and parcel segments. Upwards of 50,000 less-than-truckload and 30,000 parcel driving jobs could be absorbed.

He expects new freight-moving jobs will be created in their place, however – perhaps even more than will be lost, he writes. But they may not offer the same types of wages and benefits as the jobs they’re replacing.

“But these new jobs will be local driving and last-mile delivery jobs that—absent proactive public policy—will likely be misclassified independent contractors and have lower wages and poor working conditions,” according to the report. “However, without proactive public policy, these new driving jobs are likely to be far worse than the jobs that are lost.”

The most likely scenario for widespread autonomous adoption involves removing human drivers almost entirely from the highway, according to the report. Under this scenario, Viscelli says, local human drivers would bringing trailers from factories or warehouses to “autonomous truck ports” located near cities adjacent to major interstate exits.

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Viscelli suggests the creation of a Trucking Innovation and Jobs Council, which would bring together workers, employers, technologists and policymakers in the segment. He urges policymakers to establish a framework of labor standards “that can shape the impact of autonomous trucks, ensuring high-quality trucking jobs now and into the future.”