What will the drivers do when the cars are driverless?

By

US Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

5 minute read 26 Apr 2018

Autonomous vehicles could boost productivity and have a positive environmental impact. But what about those currently behind the wheel?

Driverless cars are on the way. Even if a world in which no one ever needs to drive a car again isn’t quite round the corner, the rapid evolution of autonomous vehicles may mean we should still expect significant technological disruption within the next 10 years, especially in industries which rely on automobiles today.

These changes could have a huge impact on the way many businesses operate, on the broader economy and, critically, on the role millions of people have within it. Although driverless cars are still at a nascent stage of evolution, their advent may cause many jobs to change or disappear entirely in the next 20-30 years – from taxi drivers to truck drivers, from auto-retailers to agricultural workers.

Redundant drivers

Take the trucking industry. The positive impact of AV (autonomous vehicle) technology means increased fleet efficiency, a huge saving in labor costs, and potential savings to pass on to consumers. But there are currently some 3.5 million people employed as truck drivers in the US alone. So the negative may mean vast numbers out of work as driverless trucks become the norm.

And it’s not just the drivers. Consider the local economies that working drivers support.

The same scenario can be applied to any number of sectors. We’ve already seen significant disruption in the taxi industry from companies like Uber and Lyft. Now imagine all of those cars being automated, and the impact on drivers around the world. In fact, the entire car ownership model is under threat, and with it, the wide range of jobs it currently supports: everything from repairs to parking, from financing to insurance.

This technology is going to bring new challenges. Firms which buy company cars or trucks will want to upgrade to driverless vehicles. Some may avoid purchasing vehicles for their fleets and choose leasing or paying for on-demand subscription services instead. Those which rely on driving, such as taxi and haulage, will have to consider the implications of a seismic transition.

The entire car ownership model is under threat, and with it, the wide range of jobs it currently supports: everything from repairs to parking, from financing to insurance.

Some businesses - such as driving schools - may see reduced demand. Others will have no use for much of their labor force. There are wider societal questions to be asked about the responsibility of businesses and governments to provide training opportunities for those who have been displaced. And debates to be had about what new skills educators will have to teach in order smooth over these potentially rough transitions and prepare upcoming generations for a drastically different labor market.

There will also be a revolution in the legal and regulatory environment as laws and norms developed for drivers are adapted for autonomous vehicles. Businesses switching from manual labor to automation will need to have an acute understanding of their legal obligations and a plan to manage new elements of risk – be that in employment law, cybersecurity or a change in insurance coverage.

A man tries new car technology

The benefits

But if redundancy and legal complexity are the bad news (perhaps less so for lawyers), what about the wider economic advantages this epochal transformation might bring? Morgan Stanley recently predicted the large-scale adoption of autonomous cars could produce global savings of around $5.6 trillion. There could also be some gains in productivity as commuters’ time is freed up, plus untold environmental benefits through increased fuel efficiency and potentially lower levels of vehicle ownership if driverless cars hasten the trend toward ride sharing.

As far as jobs go, it’s difficult to predict the net effect of autonomous vehicles across the board, but there are likely to be many opportunities as we transition. A 2015 report for the UK-based Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders suggested the driverless revolution will signal a renaissance in the British automotive industry and the creation of hundreds of thousands of additional jobs in manufacturing and production.

In short, when autonomous vehicles take over the driving, drivers will need to retool their skill set to relevant opportunities that this new environment creates – akin to the industrial revolution or even the mass adoption of computers, the internet or even the mobile device.

Anna Kahn, EY Global New Services Leader for People Advisory Services, says that while there will be a significant increase in the number of job opportunities associated with the manufacture of driverless vehicles, the nature and source of this new workforce will differ significantly from that which currently makes cars. Therefore manufacturers will need to source this talent from a varied range of pools.

When autonomous vehicles take over the driving, drivers will need to retool their skill set to relevant opportunities.

“Those businesses that can get an early view of the future skills and competencies that will be required - through the application of advanced analytics - will have a head start in building out this emerging workforce. This will help them steal the march on competitors to position themselves as the employer of choice.”

Given the technologically advanced nature of driverless vehicles, there could be many more digitally-focused jobs available in fleet management, maintenance, software development and the widespread construction of smart infrastructure. The same might be said for adjacent sectors such as telecommunications, or power and utilities, which might see new consumer needs created by the autonomous vehicle network.

A component in a smarter world

In this case, all sorts of new roles might spring up as we come to think of cars less as products and more as services, part of a wider ‘smart’ infrastructure requiring human oversight, maintenance and development. In this case, existing businesses will need to adapt to meet as-yet-unseen challenges, just as new businesses will come into being to meet new demands – app development for connected cars, for example.

But whatever the future holds, it will almost certainly signal a massive shift in the nature of work and huge disruption to many industries. Incumbents and new entrants alike will need to diversify, re-skill and think big about new opportunities.

Summary

Driverless vehicles could signal a shift and disruption to industries, forcing businesses to diversify and consider new opportunities.

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By

US Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization