Autonomous transportation is coming, and with it, concerns about job security. Yet advances in self-driving technology can actually augment trucker jobs—if logistics leaders adopt new skills.
Today, there’s a lot of hype around autonomous transportation technologies and self-driving vehicles. On one hand, there seems to be real potential to revolutionize the delivery industry. Consider the examples of Amazon’s autonomous transportation efforts and Domino’s self-driving pizza delivery cars, both of which aim to transport goods to consumers and quickly and efficiently as possible.
Yet the advent of these technologies is also producing new anxieties in current, “traditional” truck drivers. These truckers are wondering how these changes will affect them and what the future of the industry might mean for them.
However, truckers may be more receptive to new technologies than you might think. For example, a new global survey of nearly 3,000 employees across eight nations conducted by the Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated found that there is a significant opportunity for new technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), to improve the workforce experience. In this case, 64% of employees would welcome AI if it simplified or automated time-consuming internal processes.
In reality, the industry is actually experiencing a trucker shortage, which would indicate that job security shouldn’t be a concern. Yet the question remains: What can logistics leaders do to attract, retain, and develop the right employees with the right skills to dispel fears that trucker jobs could be obsolete in a few short years.
Let’s take a closer look at the trends related to autonomous transportation, their impact on the logistics industry, and new skills these professionals should master in the future.
A new approach calls for new skills
In its initial development stage, autonomous transportation will only provide point-to-point transportation using major highways. This will create a hub-and-spoke distribution model, where today’s truck drivers will evolve away from long-haul or over-the-road trucking to driving shorter regional, city, or urban routes.
These changes will create the need for commercial drivers – and the companies they work for – to adopt new ways of thinking and enhance their existing skills in three key ways:
1. Increase overall skills
As commercial drivers begin to spend the bulk of their time driving in more urban settings, they will have many more pick-ups and deliveries as they go back and forth the new autonomous truck hubs to either consumers, businesses or distribution centers. This increases the potential for more accidents, which in turn highlights the need for more highly skilled drivers. “Bumping” docks will also require a higher level of skills than what might have been needed when truckers spent the majority of their time on highways.
2. Improve data collection & gain real-time visibility
In this new hub-and-spoke transportation system, drivers will now be responsible for moving many different trailers each day and driving them significantly shorter distances. Clearly, the goal will be to achieve the highest level of productivity possible, in order to maximize the number of trips or deliveries each day.
Yet how can logistics companies gain the visibility into the right metrics to monitor and improve productivity? One answer is the drivers themselves. In the new logistics landscape, it will be increasingly important for drivers to collect detailed data on tablets, phones, and other mobile devices. For example, imagine the value if the entire organization had real-time visibility into key metrics such as:
- Arrival and departure times
- Wait times (when loading or unloading is not taking place, but a driver is waiting)
- Actual loading and unloading times (when the actual process is occurring, separate from wait times)
- Other data associated with the total transit times for each pick-up or delivery
When all of this data is captured in a powerful analytics tool, the organization can use it to make faster, more-informed business decisions. Managers can improve workforce scheduling to minimize labor costs, while optimizing other factors such as route planning, fuel costs, and more. Not only does this help the company manage the bottom line, but it provides insights to change pricing strategies, generate increased revenues, and sharpen its competitive edge.
3. Adopt a new compensation model
In this new model, more drivers will work on a single-day basis as opposed to longer, multiple day trips. As a result, driver compensation models will have to change. Currently, the majority of over-the-road or long-haul drivers are compensated on a per-mile basis. Some companies may supplement mileage pay with other factors such as wait time, but the primary portion of their compensation is still based on the number of miles driven.
As the hub-and-spoke distribution model becomes more prevalent, truck drivers won’t have the opportunity to accumulate significant miles. This means current compensation will have to be changed to a component-based model that includes factors such as hourly pay, the number of stops or trips, loading or unloading (if the driver performs the labor), and any other factors that are important to the process.
The future starts now
Make no doubt, changes are coming as a result of autonomous driving and the adoption of other new technologies. Yet the future doesn’t have to be too intimidating for truckers, especially considering that most of them are surprisingly receptive to these changes. If employees can sharpen their skills, and their company can adjust their current models and approaches, both will be well positioned for the road ahead.