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More than a third of workers in Pittsburgh’s metro area have jobs at high risk of automation

Sky Williams has been driving trucks since his early 20s. The Indiana Township resident is 46 now and when he sees headlines like, “Robots will take our jobs. We’d better plan now, before it’s too late,” it doesn’t concern him. Even though experts say truck drivers’ jobs are susceptible to automation.

Though Williams acknowledges the rapid development of self-driving vehicles, he doesn’t believe his job could be completely automated. Williams transports large quantities of stone and other building materials to and from construction sites.

“There’s places that I go that a self-automated system would not be able to work. Like, we’re working out by the airport… I’ll take stone there and, a lot of times, the laydown yard is all mud pretty much,” he said.

“There’s places that I go that a self-automated system would not be able to work,” said Sky Williams, who has been driving trucks since his early 20s. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Plus, being behind the wheel of a truck is different than a car, with maneuvers and considerations that he thinks can’t be easily programmed. “There’s a rhythm that goes with just about everywhere you’re driving. Driving a truck is totally different than driving a car, because you have to increase your stopping distance. You have to watch everything around you. The more you have pedestrians, the more unpredictable that road is,” Williams said.

Right now, demand for truck drivers is high. Two years ago, the United States had a shortage of 78,000 truck drivers. That number has grown to 280,000, giving truck drivers more leverage to negotiate the terms of their employment.

However, a recent report from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development signals that advantage for truck drivers may be temporary. Using a study from the University of Oxford, the conference determined that 39 percent of workers (about 435,000 people) in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) are in jobs at high risk of automation. All of the jobs characterized by the conference as ‘high risk’ were assigned an 85 percent or higher likelihood of automation in the Oxford study.

These high-risk professions include workers in retail sales, of which the Pittsburgh MSA has nearly 36,000, as well as operating engineers and other construction equipment operators, a regional workforce of about 5,200. The report also includes the 13,360 area truck drivers as working in a profession vulnerable to automation.

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PA Workforce Development Association