Autonomous Trucks Could Put 3 Million Drivers Out Of Work, Says Commerce Secretary Ross

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Autonomous trucks — and even more so, autonomous electric trucks — could revolutionize long-haul transport over the next decade. But, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the Concordia Conference in New York City last week, that will come at a price: loss of a huge number of well-paying jobs.

The International Transport Forum issued a report last spring saying up to 70% of all trucking jobs could be lost by 2030.

This would be great for the industry:

  • dramatic cost savings
  • solution to a chronic shortage of drivers
  • reduced pollution
  • fewer accidents

But it’s bad for drivers, who would need to find another job. Up to 70% of all trucking jobs could be wiped out by 2030 as a result of self-driving trucks.

“I’m told there are something like 3 million adults who make a good living as over-the-highway truck drivers,” Ross told the audience of executives and advocates who had come to the Concordia Conference, which ties in with both the opening of the UN and Climate Week NYC.

“That’s a very specialized set of skills,” he continued, “and many of them actually own their own trucks or lease them, so they’re kind of small entrepreneurs. But it’s unclear whether they’ll a) have the capital to be able to buy the new driverless trucks, and b) that would be a little weird anyway, to kind of obsolete yourself.”

“That’s compounded by all the Federal Express trucks, the other kind of delivery trucks, that go around the city each day, presumably those would be replaced too. Those have been pretty good jobs that don’t require even a full HS education. That will have impact on a very vulnerable segment of our population.”

He said the Commerce Department is taking a look at how to deal with the challenge of autonomous trucks, but really didn’t have much good news, other than to talk about retraining, which has been on the table for years but has never gotten much funding, certainly not since the Tea Party wave pushed the GOP into the majority in the House of Representatives.

He emphasized that education is important, but not college degrees — he’s more enthusiastic about community college training, especially if it can be linked up with corporations to specifically address their hiring needs.

“Where we think new jobs will come in,” he said, “is only with these new, very complicated bits of equipment. They need people to install them, need people to maintain them, need people to provide ongoing service. And those may not require rocket science skills. So the real issue is, how do you modulate the timing effect, so that you’ve got enough educational input so that people can make the necessary changes so that they can peform the new tasks.”

He noted that he’s working with Ivanka Trump on an initiative called Workforce of the Future, which was announced back in June as part of Trump’s “Workforce Development Week” but has since dropped off the radar.

“We’re working with industry, we’re working with educators, working with labor to try to figure out how to change the American educational system. Because it is not producing people with the right skills for these new tasks. Many high schools no longer teach chemistry, physics and math. Well, that’s a handicap as you go into an increasingly technological era.”

Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the Commerce Department website about Workforce of the Future, and there hasn’t been much talk about it since May.

The US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held hearings last week about autonomous trucks, at which the Teamsters reminded the Senators that their members vote, and need to be taken into consideration.

“Self-driving vehicles have the potential to change the transportation industry as we know it. That can be for the better or for the worse, depending on the actions that this committee, workers and others take,” said Ken Hall, general secretary treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “It is incumbent upon the members of this committee that workers are not left behind in this process.”

You can watch the whole hearing here: Transportation Innovation: Automated Trucks and Our Nation’s Highways.

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Jeremy Bloom

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue.

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