Didn’t See That Coming

Driverless truck on roadChange is never easy nor is it easy to predict. No matter how much research one does nor how critical one analyzes the data there is always the “didn’t see that coming” factor. Two stark examples of where the “didn’t see that coming” factor involve the 1850 prediction of what New York City would look like one hundred year from then and the 1989 economic forecast for the 1990’s.

In the 1850’s the leading economists of the day were asked to predict what New York City would be like in the 1950’s. The economists predicted that New York City would not exist in the 1950’s. This conclusion was reached by first looking at the population growth for the decades before 1850 and then using that growth to predict what the population of New York City would be like in one hundred years. Once the population was predicted for the 1950’s they then calculated how many horses would be needed to transport these people and how many tons of manure these horses would produce each week. The economists concluded that no city could handle that much manure. The economists “didn’t see the automobile coming” which changed everything. Jobs were lost and jobs were created. Blacksmithing was a highly demanded skill which disappeared. Engine repair was and still is, a skill which can provide employment.

In 1989 after much thought, gathering of data, discussion, a thousand page report was generated predicting what would drive the economy in the 1990’s. The word Internet does not appear in this document yet the Internet drastically changed our economy in the 1990’s and beyond. Jobs were lost and jobs created. Websites like “Trip Advisor” and “Expedia” have cut drastically into the travel agent’s job. Other jobs have been created such as maintaining these websites and running and servicing customers.

For the American worker keeping abreast of fast moving developments is vital. Certainly with the global economy jobs are lost to other countries. The workers at Rockford, Illinois’ Amerock saw their jobs go to China. Amerock had been making hardware for over 70 years. The name was a combination of American and Rockford. Its parent company just saw a cheaper way to make the hardware. Perhaps there can be tax laws or other incentives to keep jobs in the US but we can not stop innovation. The blacksmith and travel agent lost their jobs to innovation not to outsourcing.

My advise to young people has been to develop service skills. These skills can not be shipped overseas. The skilled electrician or truck driver should have a secure job future, but then I “didn’t see the driverless car” coming. Yes the driverless car sounds more like fiction than a threat, but the blacksmith who saw the horseless carriage and saw its potential realized horseless means no need for horseshoes or blacksmiths.

Uber drivers probably put a lot of cab drivers out of business. In Cincinnati Uber drivers are being replaced by driverless Ubers. Uber drivers are being put out of business. It is not too far a step that truck drivers maybe replaced by driverless trucks.  I said service jobs were secure. Driverless trucks, didn’t see that coming.

I have read driverless truck will be on the road within a decade. Maybe, but predictions are imperfect. For the younger truck driver it would be wise to watch the developments of driverless vehicles. Once the public accepts the driverless vehicle they will be everywhere. Truck driving could go the way of the blacksmith, but innovation is as American as apple pie.  It cannot be stopped. The blacksmith who saw the risk to his profession because of the horseless carriage probably did better than the blacksmith who scoffed at the horseless carriage. We all need to stay aware of innovations and the impact these can have on our careers.