2021 is shaping up to be a big transitional year for trucking. As the pandemic winds down, some demands made of the industry will finally lower, while others will continue for the foreseeable future. We’ll be going over 10 predictions for the coming year. While some trends will continue, there are some new things to watch for in the coming year and beyond.
1. Industrial Demand Will Resume
Since the coronavirus vaccines are finally coming out, industrial demand will likely rise again. During 2020, non-essential businesses experienced less demand. Trucking companies that primarily served these industrial businesses were hit hard and many were forced to slow operation or even slow down. Now the demand will increase as businesses and industries resume normal operations. Many projects that were put off thanks to being non-essential will resume and they will need supplies and drivers.
2. Essential Supplies Still in Demand
During the pandemic, supply lines were stretched to their limits as stores and businesses tried to keep up with the demand for essential supplies like paper goods, cleaning supplies, and food. Until the vaccine has reached most of the population, demand for cleaning and sanitation supplies will remain high.
Truckers that bring these supplies will still be in high demand until the pandemic is finally eased. This may be summer or later depending on how long it takes for the majority of the population to receive the vaccine.
Expect loads of PPE like masks and hand sanitizer as well as cleaning supplies like bleach and paper goods to be in high demand until the summer at the earliest.
3. Supply Lines Still Stressed
Until the pandemic is under control and restrictions are lifted, there will still be stressed supply lines. Many retail stores keep little stock, sometimes as low as a few days of typical sales. The beginning of the pandemic showed how quickly these supplies could be bought out and leave retail scrambling to get new stock in.
While stores have learned their lesson and are better about keeping up purchasing limits, any new lockdown could result in more panic buying into the summer and possibly beyond. The increase in online shopping has only made this worse. This pressure was unprecedented and will continue for some time until the existing infrastructure finally meets consumer demand.
4. Online Shopping Will Still be Popular
Until the public feels more comfortable, online shopping will continue. This means lots of product needing to reach warehouses and eventually the customer. Many consumers have come to love the convenience of having things shipped to their homes and will continue shopping online even after restrictions are fully lifted. This means retailers will be restructuring to meet consumer demand.
5. More Warehouses to Keep Up with Online Demand
Since consumer demand is unlikely to lessen much in the next year as the pandemic abates, many businesses are making dark stores or warehouses and distribution centers for online orders. Each of these will need to be supplied. This means more trucking services will be required in order to keep them stocked and their product leaving to consumers. More truckers will be needed to meet this demand.
6. Increased Interest in Trucking Career
Due to the pandemic, there were fewer new truckers coming out of schools. Many older truckers already took the chance to retire as well. This means that at least at the start of the year, there will be fewer truckers to meet higher demands. The demand will likely only increase for the next few years as more drivers retire without enough new drivers entering the workforce. As such, expect to see more companies trying to attract new drivers.
However, because of the job loss, lots of people are pivoting in their career. They are looking for jobs that are pandemic-proof, as well as limited contact with people. A career in truck driving is one of those options. Trucking schools have experienced an increase in students in 2020, which we predict will continue in 2021.
7. Higher Wages
Thanks to this demand, wages have gone up for new truckers. As of the end of May 2020, the average salary for a truck driver is $48,710 (BLS.gov). Experienced drivers can expect at least several thousand more a year and better benefits, and this boost means that current truckers can expect better compensation.
New people will likely start training to help meet demand. If it doesn’t pick up, expect wages to rise even higher as companies compete for new drivers. The current estimates put the driver shortage at over 100,000 by 2023. Those looking to get into the industry last want to jump in now to take advantage of this demand.
8. Automation on the Rise
In order to meet the increased demand for online ordering and delivery, more businesses will be moving to automation to help reduce labor costs and improve the amount of time it takes for orders to leave their warehouses. At least for now, it won’t change too much of the demand for trucking.
9. Automation Won’t Replace Truckers Yet
Self-driving technology can’t replace a human driver on the road as the laws simply aren’t in place yet. While the technology might be ready or close to it, the trust isn’t there yet. It remains to be seen how it will perform in the real world. The biggest change will likely be drones used in urban areas. They have been tested for deliveries to consumers directly, and their use will likely increase unless significant issues or legal challenges stop them. Many businesses want to reduce the cost of deliveries for themselves and some see drones replacing human drivers as the way to go.
10. Delayed Mergers Finally Going Ahead
Many mergers were delayed by the pandemic. Since in-person evaluations weren’t safe, many mergers and other important business decisions were put off. Once restrictions are lifted, these mergers and evaluations will finally go ahead. Expect to see a lot of changes as businesses grapple with the pressure that they are under because of the pandemic.
As you can see, 2021 will be a big year for trucking. This trend will continue as the impacts of the events of 2020 will be felt for many years to come. Some things will return to normal, and others will stay the way they’ve become thanks to the pandemic. Keep an eye out to see how things will change in the next 5 years.
Geoff is a freelance writer with 20+ years of experience in driving trucks and buses, dispatching, supervising, and training commercial driving teams. His expertise is writing topics on the transportation and trucking industry, and information technology trends.