Driverless cars may seem like something from a sci-fi film, but according to the Chancellor they’re set to be on UK roads by 2021. In Philip Hammond’s 2017 Autumn budget, he dedicated £150 million to research and training in autonomous driving, with hopes that Britain can lead the way in driverless technology after Brexit.
But with nearly a million people driving as an occupation in the UK, this change is certain to have a considerable impact on people and businesses. Read on as we discuss the impact of driverless technology and how businesses can prepare for it.
Who will be affected?
The effect of the driverless revolution is by no means limited to one profession. Amongst the one million professional drivers there are around 300,000 HGV drivers, a quarter of a million van drivers, 140,000 bus and coach drivers and 225,000 taxi drivers or chauffers.
While it may be some time before the individual vans, buses and taxis are hit, it’s looking like HGVs could be seeing changes within the next few years. Why? Because trucks drive in convoys, they’re suitable for semi-autonomous technology. Platooning achieves this, by having several semi-autonomous vehicles mimicking a lead driver’s changes in direction and speed. And it’s planned to be tested in convoys on roads as soon as mid-2018.
Better fuel efficiency
When platooning, trucks are linked wirelessly so they can communicate changes and respond immediately using synchronised braking and accelerating. This means – as well as reducing congestion – they can travel in a much tighter group. With software keeping this distance consistent, the convoy forms what’s known as a “road train”. A tighter convoy means less air resistance on trucks, resulting in better fuel efficiency.
Fuel efficiency is improved further because of optimal driving behaviour. Manufacturers calculate fuel efficiency for vehicles based on optimal conditions, generally using the “pulse and glide” method. Essentially, it means alternating between acceleration and coasting with perfect rhythmic timing. Understandably, this is next to impossible for human drivers. Driverless vehicles, however, can be programmed to achieve these conditions quickly and safely.
Less fuel, less cost
Better fuel efficiency benefits both businesses and the environment. Fuel accounts for around a third of total costs for logistics operators, so a marked reduction will have a significant positive impact for their running costs. Using less fuel also means less harmful gases being emitted into the environment.
This environmental benefit could also help businesses meet their emission reduction targets. Schemes like the UK’s Carbon Reduction Commitment, Climate Change Agreements, and the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme reward companies for reducing their fuel use and emissions. It’s thought autonomous technology could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 18 percent for trucks.
The flipside of driverless
The threat is that thousands of jobs could be lost across the UK logistics sector as driverless technology could bring a reduced need for HGV and LGV drivers. Convoys of several vehicles will only need one lead driver, with semi-autonomous vehicles potentially only requiring one unskilled supervisor on board at any one time. Conversely however, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders estimates that autonomous vehicles will create 320,000 jobs through product development, manufacturing, maintenance, and safety.
It’s not necessarily a case of jobs being lost, but simply changing in their nature and a shift in priorities. To prepare for this, employers should look to upskill and cross train their current staff, which can be paid for using their Apprenticeship Levy credits. Upskilling enables staff to access a wider range of skills, allowing them to develop across different areas of the business. So, if there is a danger of roles becoming redundant, there can be a smooth transition into a different position in which they feel comfortable and confident in – benefitting both the business and the candidate.
Digital skills are a big part of this. A 2016 World Economic Forum report estimates that a third of ‘core skills’ in 2020 will be made up of skills that aren’t considered important today. With Britain coming into a ‘digital revolution’, it’s more important than ever to have a variety of skills in order to develop the behaviours needed to work flexibly across a business.
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Getting the most from the Apprenticeship Levy
A changing industry means, now more than ever, businesses need to make the most of the Apprenticeship Levy to fund staff development. Bis Henderson Academy can tailor services to help every business get the very best from the levy. We can incorporate specialist courses to work on individual weaknesses, and work alongside internal teams to ensure your workforce are elevated rather than eliminated.