In It for the Long Haul: Trucker learns new skills to keep his career moving

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By Aly Higgins

They say it is never too late to teach an old … ahem, an experienced … dog new tricks. The same can be said of veteran truck drivers. Longtime truck driver Rick Peña became the first graduate of Pima Community College’s Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist Certificate program earlier this year.

After nearly two decades driving on the open road, Peña saw the future of the trucking industry was changing. Major trucking and shipping companies like TuSimple and UPS are developing autonomous, or self-driving, trucks to improve the efficiency and safety of truck driving.

The new technology inspired Peña to enroll in the certificate program. Pima classes gave him the opportunity to learn the technology of self-driving trucks, such as the trucks’ sensing capabilities that help them adapt to changing road conditions and know where they are on the road.

Long-haul truckers face a job transition

As more autonomous trucks hit the road, job opportunities in the trucking industry are changing. Currently, there are two million long-haul truck drivers in the United States. As industry leaders pioneer automation, there is concern that long-haul truck drivers will lose their jobs.

Peña believes there is a lot of misinformation about the impact. Automation does not eliminate the need for drivers or workers with trucking experience, he said. Workers still will be needed for other trucking-related tasks, such as loading, customer service and logistics coordination. Also, self-driving trucks already on the road still need co-pilots.

“I think there’s a misconception about automation. It’s not a job loss, but a transition,” Peña said. “The analogy I use with my family is that airplanes have always been autonomous, but they still need pilots. Autonomous trucks need truck drivers to know the system and understand the added technology and sensing devices.”

Industry leader TuSimple also says their autonomous trucks can address other safety and well-being concerns in the trucking industry, such as long hours behind the wheel, dangerous and unpredictable weather conditions, and exhaustion.

Peña said the new technology can be positive for drivers: “You’re always concerned about safety on the road. The new technology offers a safer working environment for truck drivers, reducing deaths and injuries for everyone on the road.”

Pima’s Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist Certificate Program

Pima’s Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist Certificate program offers several courses to prepare drivers for different jobs in the trucking industry. The program is designed to help transitioning truck drivers gain the skills they need to adapt to the changing industry. The certificate program has classes on how to interact with self-driving vehicles, the basics of computer hardware components, electrical systems, safety, health and environmental regulations, and domestic freight transportation. The program can prepare drivers for a career as an autonomous commercial vehicle driver trainee, co-driver or operations specialist.

Continue Your Education at Pima

To learn more about the Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist program and other trucking programs at Pima, contact the Center for Transportation Training Office at 520-206-2744 or [email protected].


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