Freight industry leaders are expecting more of the same from the economy in 2022, as the strong demand for logistics services that marked 2021 continues.
Leaders from freight and transportation markets discussed these and other industry trends at the SMC3 JumpStart conference in Atlanta this week. More than 450 people turned out for the event, which was held in person for the first time since January 2020, just before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Registration was down slightly from pre-pandemic levels; the event typically draws more than 500 attendees, according to SMC3 officials.
Among the key topics discussed at the event: the ongoing labor challenge, especially in the trucking industry; economic volatility and supply chain disruptions, which industry leaders said they expect will continue; tight capacity across freight markets; and the recent passage of the infrastructure bill.
A series of attendee poll questions over the course of the event emphasized the expected market volatility ahead. More than 94% of attendees at the conference’s opening session on Monday said they view 2022 as another year of supply chain disruptions, with nearly three-quarters citing staffing shortages across the supply chain as the biggest challenge facing the less-than-truckload (LTL) market, in particular.
Conference keynote speaker Greg Gantt, president and CEO of Old Dominion Freight Line, said his industry outlook is positive, despite the challenges.
“ was extremely strong, and we’re bullish on ‘22,” Gantt said, citing a fast-moving freight market, driven by strong consumer and industrial markets. He said customer inventories remain low, and an expected resupply will keep markets moving. “All modes will see it. Everyone is going to have their plates full.”
Strong demand will stress an already tight logistics labor market, but Gantt and others pointed to some bright spots on the horizon, especially in trucking. Last fall’s passage of the infrastructure bill in congress included a pilot program that allows 18-year-olds to get a commercial drivers license and drive nationwide, broadening the pool of truck driver candidates. The program includes safety training and apprenticeship programs and will go a long way toward helping fill the thousands of open driver positions across the industry, proponents argue.
Gantt agreed that the program is a step in the right direction, and said it adds to existing industry efforts to recruit drivers. Old Dominion and other carriers have their own internal driver training schools and have been working harder to attract candidates via job fairs and other recruiting efforts recently, he said.
“We’re getting them [drivers], but we have to work a lot harder to get them,” he said, adding that Old Dominion Freight Line added 3,000 employees in 2021, 1,800 of which were drivers.
Darrel Harris, president and COO of freight transportation and logistics provider Yellow Corp., also spoke at the event, noting that about 800 candidates went through the company’s driver training program last year and that the firm hopes to double that number in 2022.
Victoria Kickham started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for DC Velocity.