I’m going to take a more in-depth detour from my normal descriptive shenanigans to describe the shenanigans specifically pertaining to why I downgraded my work shirt.
As you may know, I’ve never been particularly skillful at politics. I tend to have the worst luck with appearance. It’s not that I have a bad appearance, per se, near as much as the fact that my appearance tends to correspond exactly to what I really am deep-down. Apparently, when those kids shows said “be yourself”, I took their advice a little too far.
Unfortunately, most places in this world involve politics. Generally, the higher you go up the management ladder, politics matter more and more and most other skills become less and less relevant. This is largely because a manager’s performance is tied almost exclusively to the success of others, and while a manager of 5 can pull his own weight to make up for a lack of ability to inspire work out of others it becomes harder for a manager of 100 to do the same thing.
The only way around this while having a career that doesn’t require government supplementation is to find a line of work that specializes in a unique need of society. Actuaries, for example, crunch complex and intricate statistical probabilities behind insurance policies and can make upwards of $180,000 a year!
The trouble with this is that eventually the work reaches a “glass ceiling” of sorts regarding management. Not only is the Peter Principle a working concept, but often the pay caps off at a certain level before management becomes an option.
Now, in this strange job market, specialized blue-collar work is actually in higher demand that many white-collar workers are turning down. If you think about it, that means that there is an army of unemployed people not willing to get their hands into a new type of work simply because they aren’t skilled for it/they don’t want to/they’re lazy/ they don’t know about it/all of the above.
Along with all of this, there are a number of personal reasons pertaining to my decision:
- I had been unemployed for a few months and had heard that logistics companies are desperate for OTR truck drivers.
- My package center supervisor job paid less than starting off as a truck driver.
- The expectations of a truck driver are fulfilled by humanly possible limitations that don’t really change, while UPS is understaffed, under-resourced and struggling to maintain a public image on a decaying status.
- I get more of a chance to do what I love, such as writing more and reading audio books most of the workday, instead of fighting the temptation to give myself a brain hemorrhage on the nearest wall.
Finally, if that’s not enough to convince you that I’m relatively sane, I’ve been following the truck driving industry closely for a while now and have one last thought to level at y’allses.
Many people believe that truck driving is a dying industry since automation is taking it over. I even saw the idea surface in an episode of South Park! Though this idea is technically true, it’s overlooking a few major elements.
Firstly, automated vehicles are a ways out before they can become a viable universal solution. This article neatly explains the levels of automation, but allow me to make it even neater:
- Level 0 – The vehicle doesn’t drive itself, though it might have something like ABS
- This has been around since cars were a thing
- Level 1 – The vehicle steers or controls speed, but not both (basically old-timey cruise control)
- This has been common since the 80’s
- Level 2 – The vehicle is essentially able to navigate one lane of a highway
- Though this is common in cars it’s just barely getting introduced into trucks, largely because they’re large
- This is simply a convenience for the truck driver, since everything is still literally in the driver’s hands
- Level 3 – The vehicle drives like a nervous 15-year-old with a permit
- This is brand-spanking-new in cars, and trucks will get it when the computer can think a mile ahead
- This won’t be hard to implement, but it will still require the driver behind the wheel and will simply make the truck driver’s life even easier
- Level 4 – The vehicle can drive itself on a sunny day on freshly paved roads
- Google is doing this, but it’s not particularly marketable right now due to the hundreds of legal issues that come with nobody in particular to pin blame on
- This will likely roll out for big rigs but will still require a driver, since the liability of a Prius hitting something is slightly less than 80,000 pounds of gasoline
- This will be the biggest hurdle, since figuring out how to legally pin responsibility will be a headache and a half, as this TEDed video shows (good legal industry to get in on the ground level with, high school buddy of mine is an attorney in it now!)
- Level 5 – The vehicle drives itself anywhere, anytime
- This doesn’t exist
- Truck drivers will need new jobs when this comes around
This entire issue seems like a repeat of the accounting industry in the 70’s. Computers were starting to add big numbers, and some people forecasted that the computer would replace the accountant. This was echoed more loudly when VisiCalc came out in 1979, Lotus 1-2-3 came out in 1981, and finally when Microsoft
ruthlessly sabotaged VisiCalc’s creator and sold the product under a different name created a similar product with Excel in 1985.
Well, where are the accountants now?
The last time I checked, accounting is a high-demand industry. Though the original tasks of the low-level accountant (add, subtract, copy numbers over, repeat, repeat) is pretty much easy enough for secretaries to do while answering dumb questions, the advanced report-generation and business decision-making is honed in to being an analytical art form of its own.
In the same way, automation will hit truck driving slowly. Backing a truck once you get to a destination will not go out of style, so maybe there will be drivers paid to literally back trucks at sites and truck stops all day. The need for logging, endless coffee and heart-attack food at truck stops, sleeper cabs and 20% of the country songs will go by the wayside. At the same time, the need for dispatchers, trip planners, computer maintenance personnel, mechanics and specialized sensor mechanics will go up or stay the same.
Until then, truck driving is indisputably the lifeblood of the American economy, and I’m proud to be one of its blood cells. Transit by rail only gets the load part of the way, and many of the rails are severely under-maintenanced. Cargo by boat can only travel on waterways, which leave out a few small parts of America (like Utah). That leaves shipment by truck, expensive drones, big Jetsons-style tubes that haven’t been made yet, or magical fairy teleportation that’s been severely underfunded by our current science programs.