Robot Lorries – should drivers be worried?
Date: 30th Tuesday, October, 2018
In previous blogs we have touched upon the topic of robotic commercial vehicles and the impending changes that may be afoot. With the pace of growth in both technology and the transport sector, along with a thirst for greater efficiencies, it is clear that this emerging technology is not going away any time soon! The RHA frequently contributes its thoughts and points out that a driver’s lot is not just about the task of driving, albeit a significant part, so replacing humans across the industry per se is, in its opinion, not on the near horizon. Thank goodness, we can all breathe a sigh of relief for now!
Those with a crystal ball, namely some consultant organisations, are predicting large scale job losses as robotic vehicles take to the road. PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, based on its own research, predicts the existence of self-driving HGV’s with automated delivery hubs in the next decade. With some current distribution hubs operating astonishing levels of automation, such as Ocado (watch), this part of the jigsaw is already well advanced for some businesses. For large organisations the allure of automation is irresistible as it provides a mechanism that cuts out human inefficiency and manual errors. The somewhat endearing expression, ‘well, we all make mistakes, we are all human’ is unfortunately true and our collective downfall. As consumers drive greater levels of service, speed and accuracy play a more critical role. The more important question to pose is what will be the likely impact on job creation? New jobs will be created, with titles and activities that have yet to be invented.
The RHA points out that many smaller transport and distribution businesses do not have the scale or operational blueprint to become fully automated – at this time. This may change as new business models emerge and new ‘challenger’ businesses, that may not sit in the sector currently, begin to disrupt this traditional industry. We only need to look at the likes of Amazon to see how this could happen. As the industry is reshaped by technology, it follows that a driver’s role will be too. There may be fewer drivers, but the activities and responsibilities will change, and arguably, these may be more challenging and more interesting, requiring a greater focus on digital skills and relationship building. Certainly, one of the benefits from an employee’s perspective, is taking the repetitive ‘grunt work’ out of the job which will surely be welcomed by many.
With all the hype around robotic automation, and the benefits this technology will ultimately bring to businesses and their stakeholders, let’s not forget that digital systems are not immune from problems and failure! And, when things do go wrong, they can be catastrophic. Nothing is 100% bullet proof. With this premise in mind, those designing and operating driverless HGV’s and automated distribution centres will rely on skilled humans to keep the wheels moving. From a crystal ball perspective, the future is unfolding in front of our eyes – and quickly. As an occupation, driving will change. The good news for many will be the elevated skills levels needed to carry out work in the new world as the machines do the work and manual labour becomes a thing of the past. There are always winners and losers when transformation occurs, and the current low-skilled worker will need to consider upskilling to keep abreast of change.
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