TuSimple and Pima Community College launch first-ever AV certificate program for truck drivers

The workforce development effort comes as the industry seeks to allay concerns about technology displacing human drivers.

Seeking to help drivers take advantage of job opportunities created by automation, self-driving truck startup TuSimple has partnered with Pima Community College (PCC) in Tucson, Arizona, on a first-of-its-kind autonomous vehicle certificate program.

The “Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist” program launches in September 2019 and comprises five courses covering technology deployed in self-driving trucks. It requires a Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) prior to enrollment because drivers will build on their trucking knowledge with each course.

“Human drivers will have to interact with our vehicles for the foreseeable future,” said TuSimple director of public affairs Robert Brown. The program, he said, will allow truck drivers to upskill as the industry changes. TuSimple will prioritize hiring the certificate graduates for jobs at its Tucson testing center and eventually hopes to expand the program nationwide.

“We think this is a great first step, and hopefully we can work with industry and begin the process of having a national dialogue,” Brown said.

The workforce development effort comes as AV companies seek to quell mounting concerns about technology displacing jobs in the trucking sector. Earlier this week Starsky Robotics, another self-driving truck startup, unveiled a new campaign titled “The future of driverless trucking is not driverless.”

TuSimple’s partnership with the college also coincides with a U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) study examining how the development and deployment of automated vehicle-related technology is expected to impact the transportation workforce. The first phase of the study will focus on the long-haul trucking and transit bus sectors and will result in a report to Congress, expected in summer 2019.

The PCC curriculum “is aligned with where the technology is and where the industry is going,” Brown said. The coursework will prepare drivers for new jobs such as training autonomous systems as test drivers, operating the vehicle in situations where autonomous driving is not suitable and remotely monitoring the system from a command center.

“It’s clear that the future of truck transportation will offer new employment opportunities for today’s drivers but it will require a set of new skills,” stated Lee Lambert, Chancellor of Pima Community College, in a press release. “Working with TuSimple to develop this certificate program ensures our students will build competencies in multiple areas – from logistics and information technology to automated industrial technology. These areas are being transformed by autonomy and drivers will need training in order to interact with autonomous trucks.”

Registration for the program will begin in August 2019. Once launched, the curriculum will be available free of charge to other schools interested in offering the same program. TuSimple is also looking for a corporate partner to aid in the national rollout.

Based in San Diego, California, TuSimple operates self-driving trucks out of Tucson and most recently collaborated with the United States Postal Service (USPS) on a two-week pilot program to haul mail between USPS distribution centers in Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas.