The rise of autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies has the potential to significantly disrupt many existing occupations and jobs. Millions of people worldwide whose current jobs involve driving vehicles, such as commercial truck drivers, taxi drivers, ride-hailing drivers and delivery drivers, may lose their jobs as autonomous vehicles replace human drivers. To help mitigate the negative impacts of these transitions and smooth the process of workforce retraining, governments will need to implement supportive policies and programs.
One of the most important things governments can do is provide adequate unemployment benefits and safety net programs for those who lose their jobs due to technological changes. As autonomous vehicles start putting some drivers out of work, unemployment insurance can help support people financially as they search for new jobs or retrain for different careers. Governments may need to make adjustments to eligibility rules and benefit amounts to ensure coverage is sufficient for job losses on a large scale caused by widespread technological transformations, rather than more temporary or localized layoffs. Expanding access to programs that assist with needs like healthcare, food assistance, housing assistance and job training can also help smooth the transition for displaced workers.
Targeted worker retraining programs will be crucial to help transition displaced workers into new occupations and sectors not susceptible to automation. Governments should work to identify new and emerging job types and skill sets that will still require human workers even after autonomous vehicle adoption increases. Then they can design and fund educational programs, apprenticeships, vocational training courses and certifications to teach displaced drivers and others the skills needed for these in-demand jobs of the future. Some potential new career paths that autonomous vehicle drivers could retrain for include jobs in software engineering, robotics, cybersecurity, mechatronics, IoT and data analysis roles related to autonomous systems.
To promote uptake of retraining programs and reskilling opportunities by impacted workers, governments can offer financial incentives like grants or subsidized tuition for approved courses of study. Other supports like childcare or transportation assistance during the period of retraining can further reduce barriers to participation. Apprenticeship or on-the-job training models that still provide income and experience while learning new skills can also help ease financial burdens during workforce transitions. Collaboration between governments, educational institutions and employers will be important to design demand-driven training programs aligned with labor market needs.
Direct job placement assistance may also help workers transition more smoothly. Governments can work with employers, staffing agencies, unions and trade groups to facilitate job fairs and recruiting events matching displaced drivers and others with new employers in growing industries. They can also promote apprenticeship and “earn while you learn” models directly with companies expanding in relevant emerging fields. Subsidies or tax incentives for employers who hire reskilled workers from impact professions could encourage more job opportunities. Maintained registries of transitioning workers and their recent training/certifications can further streamline placement efforts.
In some cases, governments may decide to support employment transitions through publicly-funded job creation as well. For example, some displaced commercial vehicle drivers could potentially be retrained and hired to operate autonomous government vehicles in applications like public transit systems early on. Public works projects focused on expanding broadband access, green infrastructure development or caregiving roles could also help generate interim employment for transitioning workers. Such strategies aim to sustain livelihoods and labor force participation during disruption until workers fully reskill into sustainable long-term careers.
Governments may wish to consider targeted income support or wage subsidies during workforce transitions caused by technological disruption. For example, income guarantees for displaced drivers who enroll in retraining could smooth financial hardships as they develop new skills. Subsidies to employers hiring transitioning workers that slowly phase out overtime can promote placement while allowing workers breathing room to ramp productivity in a new field. Coordinating such programs regionally, at the community level, can keep locally-focused support tailored to specific impacts on regions reliant on at-risk occupations.
No single policy approach will fully mitigate job disruption from autonomous vehicles or other emerging technologies. But governments that implement thoughtful, integrated strategies incorporating adequate support networks, robust retraining opportunities, job placement assistance and potentially targeted income supports can significantly soften negative workforce transitions and maximize opportunities for new employment and career development. Proactive, collaborative efforts across education, labor, employment and economic development agencies will be vital to promote smooth and equitable disruption management that leaves communities and countries well-positioned to thrive in the industries of the future.