The greatest challenge we currently face as drivers, is adapting to changes happening across the trucking industry. What really drives me crazy is how little input drivers have in the design of the systems we use every day. Some days, I feel like a piece of equipment and not a human being. Some days, I feel like there is a grand conspiracy to replace drivers as quickly as possible with technology driven by artificial intelligence (AI).
I know that sounds a little bit nutty. But at the same time, we all receive constant messaging about the strength of our economy and positive economic growth but sprinkled throughout this messaging are news articles about things such as the permanent layoff of 48 workers announced at the Goderich rock salt mine on Feb. 21 of this year due to the implementation of “continuous mechanized mining.”
The news release from Compass Minerals, which owns the mine states, “It helps improve efficiency and increases our competiveness in the market and, more importantly, it creates a safer work environment for our employees and contractors and reduces our environmental impact,”.
It’s easy to stay safe when you don’t have a job.
So we have a problem, and the problem is a societal one, not just a trucking industry one. We need to redesign the workplace. If we continue down a path of constant layoffs because of improved efficiency, when does that economic model fall apart? No work means no money, which means no consumers at the checkout.
As drivers, ignoring what is happening all around us when our services are still in high demand is easy to do. Every trucking company needs qualified drivers. The industry can’t get enough of us behind the wheel. So, we’re safe from the layoffs that are happening all around us. We have to realize that this is not a long-term position that we are in.
Based on what we know today, I don’t think that it would be unreasonable to forecast that in 20 years’ time the trucking industry may require 50% fewer drivers to move the same amount of freight we are moving today if the implementation of AI continues at its present pace.
In fact, it may be an overly conservative estimate. Given that AI is projected to reduce collisions by as much as 95%, think of how that would affect the people working in the claims department at all the insurance companies. Think of how that would affect the people that repair all that damaged equipment. Think of how that affects the truck stops that have 50% fewer drivers coming through their doors. There is a waterfall effect.
Going back to the rock salt mine in Goderich, what will the impact of losing 48 permanent full-time jobs have on the residents of this small city? How do they benefit from this improved efficiency and competitiveness in the global market?
I believe there is great value in the hands-on work that I perform as a driver. A great value to my own well-being, mental health, and the financial security of my family.
As I finish writing this column, I am in Winnipeg and the city is in a mess from, hopefully, the last winter storm of the season. I can’t imagine how a truck equipped with AI would manage the extreme weather I have had to deal with in the last 24 hours. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly possible with each passing month.
As drivers, we have an opportunity to attend Truck World this month (April 19-21) at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont. It provides us with the chance to talk directly to all the exhibitors – carriers, OEMs, media, enforcement – about our rapidly changing workplace.
I believe technology can improve our work environment but at the same time let’s keep in mind those 48 laid-off mine workers. Are their lives better today?
Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross canada.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.