I recently listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts called “How I Built This.” The interviewee was Chris Urmson, one of the early pioneers in developing self-driving technologies and now the co-founder and CEO of Aurora, a company that is developing a self-driving technology system for long-haul trucking.

Urmson described the technology that Aurora is developing in partnership with trucking and transportation companies. The self-driving technology for big-rig trucks will be rolled out incrementally beginning in Texas sometime in 2024.  

How quickly will this spread across the trucking industry? Like many technologies, it may seem like a hollow promise for a long time and then seem like it happened overnight.  But it will definitely happen in phases. Urmson explained that some long-haul shipments, like when trucks are loaded with a self-contained shipping container, are the easiest to handle with self-driving trucks and will be the first to go completely automated. The most complex type of hauling is flat-bed trailers that are loaded with cargo that has to be tied down and checked by a driver—think of a flatbed carrying building materials. Because a driver needs to tie down the load, check it periodically along the way, and continually monitor it throughout the trip, these types of loads will be much more difficult to automate.

As with all types of automation, the actual impact on the number of driver jobs is very difficult to estimate. Urmson predicts, in line with other phases of automation, that the overall number of jobs in the transportation and logistics industry will stay roughly the same, but the jobs will shift away from long-haul driving to other forms of service and support.

The desire for automation is being “driven” by turmoil and uncertainty in the workforce.  NPR Planet Money ran a piece about the issue in 2021. There is debate among economists about whether there really is a “shortage” of long-haul truck drivers.  Industry estimates say there are between 300,000 and 500,000 long-haul drivers, and many new drivers entering the industry every year. However, there is also a high rate of churn in the industry, with the majority of drivers leaving the industry within a year or two. And among all drivers, long-haul trucking positions are challenging to fill because of the long shifts and days (and weeks) spent away from home.

With the churn and uncertainty in the workforce, it is no surprise that the big companies (FedEx, UPS, Amazon) that depend on long-haul trucking are also investing heavily and working closely with Aurora and others in self-driving automation.

Implications for Career Changers

What does this mean for people working as drivers today? We don’t know if self-driving automation will ever create a “glut” of drivers who can’t find work, probably not. But even today, we know there are tens of thousands of individuals moving through a trucking career but intending to find something else that is a better fit.

While doubtless, many drivers love the challenge and diversity of their work, there are also many working drivers who want to move into a different job environment or career.   They want to do something they find personally meaningful, that pays a good wage, and that allows them to work in their areas of developed strengths. Since millions of workers are churning through industries like retail, hospitality, and driving, I’ll call them “churners.”

Oh, how I wish and hope many more of these “churners” can learn more about themselves and make a well-informed career decision before they sign up for the next training program or make that next career jump. In my state, the average Commercial Drivers License (CDL) program tuition is about $5,000, not cheap if you’re not sure the industry is a good fit.

This is why we urge community and technical colleges and workforce development systems to offer an aptitude assessment with career option matches for every client/student before they sign up for the next training program.  

One of the most important benefits of taking the YouScience® Aptitude & Career Discovery assessment is that it doesn’t just tell you a career to check out; it helps you better understand your natural aptitudes. And, as you discover your aptitudes, it also shows you a variety of career paths that take advantage of those aptitudes.  

Contrary to pop culture mantras like “discover your passion,” for most of us, there is probably not one “perfect” career fit, but a variety of careers that could be a good fit because they take advantage of our natural aptitudes.

Understanding innate aptitudes is valuable even for adults who find a good fit career and stay put there for a decade or more. First, through self-knowledge, they will learn how to maximize their strengths. Second, even for adults who enjoy their work, at some point, they may decide to make a significant career shift. Having a strong sense of self-understanding is a huge benefit in making that career pivot.

If you know someone who is “churning” from one industry to another, encourage them to slow down and spend some time on self-discovery. A local community college or workforce development agency should have a career center to help them get started.

And, if you work in a college or workforce development program and you need to implement an aptitude-based assessment system, please check out the YouScience® Brightpath platform at YouScience.com. You can learn more about the platform and also request a demo of the system.