My cousin is a truck driver. And at 35, he’s among the younger crowd within the industry. Squarely in the contingent of drivers that will have their worlds upended with the impending autonomous truck revolution. What is a young (or old) trucker to do?
When I began researching autonomous vehicle technology in the trucking industry, that was my primary concern. How could the economy continue to function with the sudden loss of 2 million jobs? A job that is the most common form of employment in 29 states. I am still certain that the end is nigh for the trucker as we know it. What remains to be seen is how many (if any) of the millions of long haul truckers wind up in the unemployment line. As AI advances to take the hard parts out of trucking my advice for drivers is to soften up their skillset. The increasing ability of AI and bots to do “hard skill” tasks allows (or forces) us to focus on the complex, nuanced soft skills where humans excel.
As autonomous vehicle technology eliminates the truck driving job in its current form, the roles that emerge rely even more heavily on soft skills:
- Platoon Leader: In this role, the driver leads a convoy of trucks linked by driver assist systems to travel closer together than ever before. The leader of the platoon must possess strong communication skills to deliver relevant information to trailing drivers and teamwork abilities to assign roles to all platoon members.
- Bar Pilot: With city driving still too complex for autonomous trucks, this role handles cargo for the first and last miles of freight journeys. Non-verbal communication is key for this role in order to anticipate the moves of frantic pedestrians and distracted drivers that populate city streets.
- Drone Jockey: This role takes drivers out of the cab and places them in virtual control rooms to remotely operate trucks as they navigate through busy city corridors. Their soft skill needs will be adaptability to remain calm in operating a vehicle of such magnitude with the lag time to be expected with remote operation and problem solving skills for the times when the tech just doesn’t live up to the hype and creativity to imagine the real world obstacles hidden in the blind spots of their virtual experience.
The change to come for truckers has relevance for others as well. Each advancement in AI and robotics represents a step closer to the automation of YOUR job too. The bots are getting better and better at the hard skills we prize in the technology age. While software approaches human capability in accounting, data analysis, and programming, the soft skills like connecting and coaching remain beyond the realm of replication. In a reversal of fortune that liberal arts majors the world over are sure to rejoice, the soft skills will be the key to employment in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With explicit emphasis on cultivating culture, creativity, and critical thinking leaders can prepare to guide their organizations through this soft skill transition.
As stated in the CFOW’s white paper, The Culture Cure for Digital, the stage is set with leadership. When leaders model progressive thinking and creative problem solving, their organizational cultures follow suit. Swap out control for collaboration. Trade authority for adaptability. Empowering employees encourages engagement. Teams feel more at ease innovating when they feel untethered by arbitrary rules that stifle them. Such positive cultures lead to teams thinking more critically and creatively about the problems at hand.
At the tender age of five, we can all sing, dance, and paint masterfully. Evidence of my previous prowess in art still hangs on my grandmother’s refrigerator. Somehow, the vast majority of us lose that creative spark in the journey to adulthood. But what we lose due to years of self consciousness and lack of effort can be renewed through deliberate practice. In practicing creative endeavors of any sort we unlock our abilities to problem solve and think through challenges in novel ways. So pick up your guitar or pull out the drawing pad and let your mind wander. This can be encouraged in the workplace with galleries to showcase employee art or the occasional enrichment outing to an art museum.
We’re wired for efficiency. When subjected to homogenous stimuli, like the routine tasks of daily jobs, our heuristic tendencies kick in and we enter cognitive autopilot. While it makes it easier to focus on the task at hand, the tendency blinds us from altering our viewpoints or considering alternative approaches. Slowing down portions of the work day to think through why a certain process even exists, how it relates to seemingly disparate workflows, or how it can be more engaging for workers is the type of critical thinking that our ever evolving algorithms free us up to do.
In the same way that hard skills are developed through repetition and training, soft skills can be cultivated through deliberate practice and education. Unfortunately, our educational systems lack emphasis on such skills and formal training programs from employers often overlook soft skills as well. The garage band guitar-playing trucker may seem an anomaly now, but the free flowing collaboration required of successful band members directly improves the skills needed to lead a platoon of truckers as well. This example stands as a blueprint for the worker of the future that needs to be increasingly human when the machines do everything else.