The future of transportation work: Technology, work organization, and the quality of jobs

by Jim Stanford and Matt Grudnoff

Workers in all parts of the economy are confronting twin threats from accelerating changes in technology and automation, and the ongoing shift toward more precarious and irregular forms of work — including “gigs” on digital platforms.  The transportation sector is widely acknowledged to be one of the most susceptible to both of these trends.  The Centre for Future Work has published a major new research report on these trends, and how sector stakeholders can best prepare for the coming changes.

The report was commissioned by TWUSUPER (the main industry superannuation fund in Australia’s transportation sector).  It describes the current size and economic importance of the transportation industry, and provides a detailed profile of its existing workforce.  In then considers twin drivers of change buffeting the industry: changes in technology, and changes in work organisation and employment relationships.  The report stresses the importance of distinguishing between these factors, lest observers accept a misplaced sense of “technological determinism” regarding the evolution of work and jobs.  The report concludes that the erosion of job quality and stability associated with the growth of non-standard work poses a greater challenge to quality transportation jobs, than the much-hyped advent of driverless vehicles and other technological breakthroughs.

The report concludes with several key recommendations for transportation stakeholders to assist in preparing for these changes, and managing them so as to maximise their benefits and minimise their costs.  These include:

  1. Facilitating Mobility: There will be significant new work associated with the advent of new transportation technologies. An obvious response is to assist existing workers to fill new positions by providing notice, support, and access to training and adjustment programs. Financial support from employers and governments will be necessary. Training and adjustment programs need to take account of the advanced age of many transportation workers, and tailor offerings to fit needs of older workers with less formal qualifications.
  2. Establishing Benchmarks for Skills and Qualifications: New technology-intensive jobs will require a wide-ranging suite of new skills – including design, programming, operation, data management, and more. Specific requirements and qualifications for those skills must be formalized and regulated. Sector stakeholders should work closely with existing bodies (such as Australian Industry Standards, TAFEs, and others) to specify and catalogue requirements for new jobs. Transferable certifications will assist workers and employers to identify and acquire needed skill sets, and develop a ready supply of qualified, flexible workers. Strengthening high-quality apprenticeships is also critical.
  3. Facilitating Decent Retirement: The advanced age of many transportation workers is an advantage in a time of transition. Downsizing or restructuring can be managed in part by facilitating exit by workers not interested or able to undertake retraining and adjustment. Bridging benefits and early retirement incentives, with government support, ease the transition, and avoid involuntary job losses that would otherwise occur.
  4. Negotiating Technological Change: Adaptation is more successful when all parties have a genuine say in how it is implemented and managed. Transportation stakeholders must commit to information sharing, consultation, and negotiation over technological change. Workers and their unions should be notified of plans for new technologies. Discussions should occur regarding timing, scope, and effects of new investments. Opportunities should be provided for early input from workers regarding how change will be managed; collective bargaining should include the terms of technology and its application.
  5. Building Consensus: Sector needs a multi-partite, sector-wide approach to analysing challenges and developing inclusive sector-wide responses. Undertake social dialogue among industry participants to maximise benefits of change, reduce costs – and share both costs and benefits fairly. Multi-partite forums (engaging business, workers and their unions, government, regulators, training institutions, financial institutions, and others) will help build relationships among stakeholders, identify future needs, and imagine and implement initiatives to facilitate necessary investments and adjustments.
  6. Protecting Standards and Benefits: Changes in work organisation and employment relationships are changing transportation jobs and challenging traditional standards of security, entitlements, and compensation. The use of non-standard employment forms (like contractors and labour hire) imposes unsustainable consequences on workers who are denied stable, decent opportunity. Traditional standards and entitlements should apply to all transportation workers, including in non-standard, independent, or “gig” situations. Regulatory benchmarks and corporate accountability should apply across the supply chain.

Summary Report

Full report