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by Sean Killcarr, in Trucks at Work

roadtimeIt’s no secret that information technology (IT) of all types and stripes is rapidly altering the operational landscape of the trucking business. Paper logbooks are by force of federal mandate transitioning to electronic formats; more and more freight data is becoming digitized; while truck maintenance today now usually starts and stops with a computer of some sort.

Yet how will an ever-increasing reliance on IT – especially in terms of automating a wide array of freight functions, such as route optimization, etc. – affect the employment prospects of those working in the trucking industry?

Indeed, recent research conducted by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) found that “automation” due to IT is BOTH a job killer or creator – something that is of scant comfort to those parents with 20 some year-old college graduates now living at home, unable to find decent employment.

In a nationwide survey conducted online by Harris Poll from May 13 to June 6, 2014 of 2,188 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes, CareerBuilder and EMSI found that one in five companies (21%) said they’ve “de-skilled” workers, i.e., replaced employees with automation. Among companies with more than 500 employees, the number is 30%, according to EMSI’s analysis.

However, even though such IT “automation” eliminated jobs, the vast majority (68%) of companies who replaced workers this way said their adoption of new technology resulted in new positions being added in their firms – with 35% of companies that “de-skilled” workers noted they ended up creating more jobs in their firms than they had prior to the automation.

In separate research, CareerBuilder and EMSI looked at historical acceleration and deceleration of the 786 occupations recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Based on EMSI’s number-crunching, since 2002, 257 occupations experienced a decline in employment – which translates into roughly one third of all U.S. jobs.

At the same time, 483 occupations (61%) grew 1% or more, with the hourly earnings for those “growing” occupations nearly $2 higher than the positions in decline.

Across all industries, 31% of employers predicted that certain jobs within their firms will likely be replaced by technology to some degree in the next decade, the survey found, with the “functional areas” most likely to be affected including:
  • Customer Service – 35%
  • Information Technology – 33%
  • Accounting/Finance – 32%
  • Assembly/Production – 30%
  • Shipping/Distribution – 25%
  • Sales – 17%
While some of the losses and gains can be attributed to economic cycles and globalization, arguably “automation” has also had a significant influence on employment shifts, CareerBuilder noted.

While true “automation” of commercial vehicles remains a ways off – though engineers are closing in on solutions, which you can read about here and here – there is little doubt the vastly improved ability to boost asset utilization through an array of IT systems is what’s been staving off the worst of trucking’s capacity shortage for some time now.

Just look at some of findings from the truck driver occupational data gathered by BLS. The truck driver population declined 13.4% between 2007 and 2010 due to the “Great Recession” and has only climbed back 8.1% from 2010 until now. Yet freight continues to move – often without too much heartburn on the part of shippers, at least according to what John Larkin, managing director for Wall Street investment firm Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.

truckstop“Shippers, as a class, have yet to collaborate sufficiently with carriers to eliminate much of the waste embedded in the historical operating model,” he explained in a recent research brief regarding second quarter freight trends this year.

“For example, freight is too often delivered by appointment in order to maximize the efficiency of the receiver – without regard for the impact the schedule may have on productivity of the nation’s freight transportation network,” he said.

Indeed, many experts feel the only way to successfully stay on top of shrining truck capacity and freight costs is through greater shipper/carrier collaboration – which many feel can only truly be accomplished via increased IT utilization and integration.

To that end, those with “Big Data” skills should take heart as jobs related to that field of expertise are on the rise. CareerBuilder and EMSI found in their analysis that the widespread adoption of big data to make smarter business decisions and develop better products and services created more demand for people who know how to interpret data and make it meaningful for organizations.

For example, the job position “Market Research Analyst” added more than 99,000 jobs from 2002 to 2014, a 28% increase in a field paying $29.18 per hour, the firms said.

"Technological advancements have not only increased productivity, but historically have led to an expansion of employment," noted Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and co-author of The Talent Equation.

"While automation may eliminate some jobs, it also creates other jobs that are higher paying and lifts the standard of living for the economy as a whole,” he added. “One of the greatest challenges the U.S. faces today is sufficiently preparing the workforce for the influx of more knowledge-based jobs that will likely result from progress in robotics and other STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] related fields."

Take heart from another finding as well: that while automation can often produce greater efficiencies and output, eliminating the human factor can backfire in some cases, ads 35% of firms that said they “de-skilled” workers ended up hiring people back because the technology just didn't work out.

To read more blog posts from Sean Kilcarr's award-winning blog, "Trucks at Work", click here.