In-depth study will interview more than 500 truck drivers to examine critical link in supply chain and state’s economy
SACRAMENTO – California agencies overseeing agriculture, business, labor and transportation are commissioning a study to examine the unique aspects of agricultural trucking in the state and provide policy recommendations to address longstanding driver recruitment and retention issues that have worsened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study led by Dr. Steve Viscelli of the University of Pennsylvania – in partnership with the UC Berkeley Labor Center, the UC Davis Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, and the UC Merced Community and Labor Center – will provide the first in-depth look at the labor market for agricultural truck drivers in California. Jointly funded by the California Workforce Development Board, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), and the California State Transportation Agency, the study is expected to be completed in mid-2023.
“Agriculture is one of the primary engines powering the fifth-largest economy in the world – contributing tens of billions of dollars every year to California – and this research will be critical to maintaining that competitive edge,” said the Governor’s Chief Economic and Business Advisor and Director of GO-Biz Dee Dee Myers.
“People all over the world enjoy California-grown crops every day, and that journey begins from the field in a truck,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “Hauling crops is a vital piece of the supply chain, and this study will help explore ways to make those jobs more desirable.”
“With more than 480,000 Class A commercial driver’s license holders in California, we know the problem is less a lack of available workers and more about attracting and retaining talent,” said Natalie Palugyai, Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. “This study will add critical insight and provide policy recommendations to improve recruitment, reduce turnover and stabilize the industry.”
As part of the study, Dr. Viscelli will lead a team of researchers conducting surveys and in-depth interviews in multiple languages with more than 500 truck drivers, along with agricultural shippers, trucking carriers and other stakeholders. They will also observe workers hauling a variety of crops and visit processing and packing facilities that handle multiple crops to understand the unique characteristics of the job.
While focused on the perspective of agricultural truck drivers in California, the study also will put the findings in context with the broader industry and national truck driver labor market.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for in-depth research on every link in the supply chain, particularly the long-haul trucking industry and hearing directly from the drivers,” said Dr. Viscelli, whose work has been cited by the White House Supply Chain Task Force. “There has not been a study of this workforce anywhere in the U.S. in almost 30 years, and California’s nation-leading agriculture sector provides unparalleled conditions for this much-needed research to find a better way forward.”
California’s agriculture producers have been facing challenges recruiting and retaining truck drivers for decades, which the COVID-19 pandemic only intensified as part of broader supply chain disruptions. Unlike most other trucking jobs, hauling agricultural commodities often is seasonal and can require specialized equipment. California’s nation-leading variety of 400-plus different crops and livestock commodities creates additional layers of complexity and further illustrates the need for a close examination of the sector’s unique characteristics, employer challenges and workforce barriers.
“California’s agricultural trucking sector sits at the intersection of transportation, commerce and labor, and I thank my fellow agency leaders for coming together to fund this study so we can better understand the complexities of this critical industry and help its workforce and our economy thrive,” said Toks Omishakin, Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency.
To learn more, please visit the UC Berkeley Labor Center’s California Agriculture Truck Driver Study overview.