The good news is that Santa Barbara County’s unemployment this March was only 5.2 percent, down from 5.5 percent the previous month and 5.6 percent this time last year, and way down from 10.5 percent during the depths of the recession. The bad news, however, is that Santa Barbara’s numbers are slightly higher than the state of California’s, 4.9 percent, and that of the nation, 4.6 percent.
Aside from the statistics, there are bigger, more compelling questions that have yet to be resolved, according to Peter Rupert of UCSB’s Economic Forecast Project. For example, what impact will the immigration policies of the Donald Trump White House have on North County farmworkers, already in notoriously short supply given the dramatic drop in immigrants crossing the Mexican border in recent years? That same question mark hovers over the South Coast’s hospitality industry, where thousands of immigrant workers fill vital “back of the house” functions.
At the same time that the state’s new minimum wage is starting to take effect, Rupert reported that salaries for some occupations are starting to increase somewhat, reversing the chronic, mystifying trend of wage stagnation that had defined county labor markets for so long. As additional increases in the minimum wage take effect — eventually bumping it from $10.50 to $15 an hour — Rupert said he expects Santa Barbara restaurant operators to shed labor costs by transitioning away from waiters to counter service. In places like New York, some restaurant owners are doing away with tips altogether, incorporating tip revenues into the cost of the meal and sharing the proceeds with other kitchen staff. To date, Rupert said, he’s seen little evidence of Santa Barbara owners following suit.
Writ large — and with all the statistical caveats acknowledged — the total number of non-farm jobs in Santa Barbara County appears to have increased by about 3,800 since last March. Modest but significant gains were reported in the realm of government, education, tourism, hospitality, professional management, services, and engineering. Legal professional jobs flatlined; oil mining dropped. The number of retail jobs fell, as well.
Wage and occupation reports constitute a statistical selfie into the state of the local economy, bursting with intriguing details. Some are so aggregated as to defy immediate application to the economic realities experienced by most people, but they provide a useful barometer of the economy nonetheless. In terms of take-home pay, the picture is marginally rosier. The average hourly wage went from $18.04 an hour to $18.22. The mean annual pay moved incrementally from $51,390 to $53,090.
Some of the stats in such reports are merely curious. For example, the number of CEOs increased by 10 countywide between 2015 and 2016, and their annual mean compensation — not counting stock options and other bonuses — remained flat at $213,000. The number of clergy plunged from 76 to 50 in the past year and their annual pay dropped from $76,000 to $64,000.
In the world of media, the number of reporters and correspondents dropped from 60 to 50 in the past year, and the pay — in apparent contradiction of the laws of supply and demand — dropped from $42,970 to $38,310. By contrast, the number of public relations practitioners dropped far more modestly — from 210 to 190 — while compensation increased from $63,000 to $66,820.
In health care, home care attendants saw their numbers drop from 620 to 530 and their pay go from $28,820 to $25,890. The ranks of doctors offering general practice services decreased from 190 to 170, but their pay went up a smidgen by $1,000 to $217,000.
The biggest gains — in both pay and numbers — seemed gravitationally inclined toward those professions dealing with construction and real estate, reflecting the hotter pace of residential development now taking place. At the lower end of the economic ladder, the number of dishwashers went up by about 130 while their pay inched up from $21,000 a year to $24,000. The number of janitors dipped slightly — to 22,670 — and their pay bumped up $100 to $30,050. The same trend took place with maids and housekeepers. Their numbers dipped by 200, but their pay went from $24,580 to $26,710.
These numbers could prove problematic, given new gender equity legislation that requires comparable pay for comparable work. Many occupational scientists regard housekeeping and janitorial work as requiring comparable skill sets, but housekeeping is largely a female occupation, while janitorial services are dominated by males.
The following snapshots are intended to shine a light on potentially interesting and rewarding occupations for anyone seeking to navigate their career course. —Nick Welsh
Police Officer, Beat Coordinator // Santa Barbara Police Dept. // 11 years
by Jean Yamamura
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? There’s kind of a love-hate relationship with the job. Every day is different, which is my favorite part, but that can bring up the unknown, which can be the worst part. On duty or off duty, you just don’t know what might happen. We all signed up for this, so there’s no ambiguity that things can happen.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? You kind of get to be your own boss. When the call board isn’t stacked with requests for service, you can decide to walk through the park to check things out after you’ve let dispatch know first. Or you can sit at a stop sign at an intersection that’s been bugging you. And you can interview to join special divisions, like crime scene investigation or narcotics.
I also really like the basics, the interactions with the public. We visit classrooms — the kids are so excited by our “Batman belt” — and we get to talk with them, play on the playground with them.
What personality type best thrives in this position? There’s not one that fits all. Some say type A, but some officers — out of uniform, you’d never know they were police officers.
What would others find surprising about the job? [Laughs.] How much we really have to deal with every day. We deal with everything, from homicide to two neighbors arguing about a property line.
What are the formal education or background experiences required? Everyone can be a police officer. We’ve had an English professor — his reports were something — and a singer. I used to work in a skate shop building decks [and] in a coffee shop. But you need to have a high school diploma, and the more education you have, the quicker you move up the ranks.
I went to Cal State University-Fresno, majoring in women’s studies with a minor in criminology. My dream was to be an investigator with the District Attorney’s office, but the Fresno DA said they wanted people with a background in law enforcement. I put myself through the police academy there — here in Santa Barbara, the department will educate you — interviewed here, and fell in love with the job. I work with amazing people.
Horticulturalist // Santa Barbara Botanic Garden // 17 Years
by Tyler Hayden
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? Giving incorrect information, which I’m sorry to say, I probably have done in the past. Early on, I changed my thinking about being very clear with guests about what I think I know and what I actually know. I take pains to explain to the public what I’m certain of — what I’ve read or taken from my own observations — versus what are my hypotheses.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? One of the things I enjoyed most in the beginning was working with the volunteers. They’re a great group of people. Many are retired folks, but they’re also all ages, and there’s a story behind each one of them. Nowadays, I really enjoy communicating information about native plants to the public.
What personality type best thrives in this position? Plants are creatures that require patience and tenacity to observe. Type A personalities might have a harder time. You need the focus to stay with the plant and watch it grow and change to find what happens when you water it this much or give it that much light. That might take days or weeks to find out.
What would others find surprising about your job? That there aren’t simple answers for why a plant does or doesn’t grow. It’s a very complex equation of factors, and there’s quite a lot we still don’t know about why plants do what they do. When people come into the retail nursery asking questions, they often assume I can give them easy answers. When the conversations get longer, sometimes they’re surprised.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? There’s not a lot of formal education required. I’m mostly self-taught. I’ve kept my ears open, and I keep learning. Even before I started working in the horticulture field, I was reading about plants. Many people get a degree in horticulture, but that’s not the path I chose. I’m really lucky to be in the milieu that I am here at the garden. There are so many people I can rub up against and absorb information from. And I’m really lucky to have taken classes from Bob Haller when he was still teaching classes here.
Environmental Health Director // Santa Barbara County // 34 Years
by Kelsey Brugger
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? I don’t know that I would characterize it as scary, but there is a lot we do on a daily basis that has an impact on people’s health and business. It’s challenging to strike the correct balance of information, education, assistance, compliance, and enforcement.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? At first, I was out doing the inspections and permitting work and had direct contact on a daily basis with business operators. And now being in a management role, it’s much more in the world of dealing with systems, performance, and oversight of all of our staff. A lot of my contact with the public is in problem-solving mode. Sometimes, people are dealing with things we just really haven’t seen before and that we don’t really have a place for in our regulations.
Rules are pretty stagnant and tend to be conservative, and people’s views and aspirations don’t always line up with rules. For instance, there is increasing interest in the use of gray water for irrigation and the capturing of gray water and use for some of the non-potable purposes. Some of our paradigms have shifted a little bit in terms of our willingness to look at these things and balance a bit of risk with other, bigger goals that might be worthy of pursuing.
What personality type best thrives in this position? Golly, there is a bunch. A person who is going to do well in this work has to, first off, naturally enjoy working with people. If you don’t have empathy, it’s going to be really challenging.
What would others find surprising about your job? People ask about restaurant codes. They ask, “Where do you eat? What do you eat?” I don’t rely on inspectors to tell me where the good food is. They can tell me where the safe food is but maybe not the best food.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? There are a couple of pathways to pursue an environmental health program degree. Most people don’t have the environmental science degree. They have a degree in one of the biological sciences or related fields. Those folks can apply for trainee status, and the state looks at their work experience.
Larry J. Feinberg
Director and Chief Executive Officer // Santa Barbara Museum of Art // 10 years
by Charles Donelan
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? I think the best thing starting out was the fun of having a chance to put together a good team. There were already many excellent staff members, but there were a number of openings, especially in the curatorial ranks. We have excellent and ambitious curators, who are really the engines of a museum, and a very creative and passionate group of educators in our Education Department. Thanks to all of them, no two years are alike — in fact, no two days are alike! My favorite parts of my job now (and then) are going through our exhibitions, especially when they are just going up, and observing our education programs, particularly the Day of the Dead celebration.
What personality type thrives best in this position? There are many different personality types in the museum world. There was a time when it was mainly led by more “scholarly” types; in recent years, one sees more “public relations” types in charge. As a result, there has been more emphasis at some museums on spectacular building projects and less on the art itself, which is unfortunate. At our museum, virtually the entire staff is composed of A-type personalities. If you aren’t one, there’s a good chance you’ll get run over!
What would others find surprising about your job? Those not familiar with the museum world may not be aware of some of the complexities. In a sense, the museum, with its scholars and educators, is like a university or a school. We are not only in the business of educating the visitor but also, through partnership with local schools, in the business of educating the vast majority of students in Santa Barbara. We organize and present not only events involving the visual arts but also musical, theatrical, and dance performance as well as literary events.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? Over the years, the formal educational requirements have gone back and forth. In the early days, many directors needed only to come from the right families and attend the right undergraduate college. Then, as the field became more competitive, advanced degrees became de rigueur. Lately, some directors with no museum experience and little management experience have been hired at some institutions. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
Director, Marine Diving Technologies // Santa Barbara City College // welding 18 years, teaching 18 years
by Keith Hamm
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? I don’t really like eels. I mean, they’re pretty cool, but they’re mean-looking and have big mouths, and they just stare at you like they might take a bite. Especially wolf eels.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? As a welder, I liked the travel and the money, once I got up the food chain. With teaching, I like being around the students. I learn as much from them as they do from me. It feels good to be in a learning environment; it is very fulfilling to be able to help someone reach their hopes, dreams, and ambitions. I wake up stoked to go to school each morning, and the students and faculty are all together most days — we become family.
What personality type best thrives in this position? Type A personalities. Competitive, adventurous people. I liked going places and being part of an elite team doing unique things that other people could only dream about. It’s always something new — the process and procedure are the same, but the task is always a bit different.
What would others find surprising about that job? If you do it correctly, you don’t get shocked that bad, considering you’re submersed in a brine solution with a welding electrode in your hand.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? Underwater welders are required to be certified commercial divers first. In the U.S., that would be through a dive school like Santa Barbara City College’s Marine Diving Technologies program. The certification is from the Association of Commercial Diving Educators and the American National Standards Institute. Welders are also generally required to pass a practical examination using equipment and materials that replicate what they will be doing in the field. It is called a welder qualification test and is administered by a certified welding inspector. You can’t just be a good diver or good welder; you have to excel at both.
Back when I was doing it, a person could just be an underwater welder. There is still a niche market for the best underwater welders, and they still travel a lot and make much better money than [in] the old days. However, it is better to think of underwater welding as another arrow in your quiver to make you a versatile and well-rounded diver that employers want.
Golf Pro // Glen Annie Golf Club // Teaching 28 years, playing 49 years
by Nick Welsh
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? You really want to make sure the person you’re teaching gets better. Golf can be a complicated thing, and sometimes people get worse before they get better. People need to see that they’re learning something and that they’re improving. It was that pressure.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? It was being able to make a difference, especially with the juniors. You don’t just teach lessons, but you establish a bond and it remains. With younger golfers, I’m helping them develop specific skills, but I’m also helping them develop confidence and the ability to socialize. A lot of them are at the age where their parents can’t really teach them. There’s friction. I can be their friend and mentor. My daughter is 15. She’s a very fine golfer and a very fine lady. I enjoy watching her grow in golf and in life.
What personality type thrives best in this position? I’ve had to learn to become more a psychologist than a teacher. Everyone learns differently. You can’t teach everybody the same way. You have to adapt to their own particular learning track and teach them their way. I’m teaching very specific skills, but I’m also teaching how to read a whole environment. You play tennis or basketball, and you have the court pretty much as-is. When you golf, the grass is different, the wind is different, and you have to be able to shift your approach in response.
What would others find surprising about your job? A lot of people think I’m living the lifestyle they’d like to be living. It’s fun, to be sure, but it’s also hard work. I teach 14 lessons a day. I give 40 lessons a week. I work from 8:30 in the morning, and I stay ’til about 7 p.m. I’m out here all day. Doing what I do, you really want to help the person. You feel their shot. You feel their pain. You feel their joy. At the end of the day, that’s a lot of emotion.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? I am a PGA-certified instructor. It helped that I had four years of college at UCSB. But you need to complete a three-year apprenticeship as well. And you need to take three week-long classes put on by the PGA. Lots of written materials. At the end of each, you take a four-hour test. It’s like the SATs. The pass rate is something like 28 percent.
Senior Mammal Keeper // Santa Barbara Zoo // 6 years
by Michelle Drown
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? Working with wild animals; I’d say getting used to that was the biggest thing. I started with macaws and a serval and a porcupine at another facility and then shifted over to gray wolves. You’re looking at this animal, and it looks like a dog, but no; it’s a wild animal, and they remind you of that. It’s a little intimidating. Then shifting to the big cats and all of a sudden you’re working with a 300-pound lion that is just as tall as you.
What did you like best when you began your career? What do you like best now? When I first began, it was the fact that I could make a career working with amazing animals. Every single day of my life, I get to go to work and work with these amazing creatures. And I get paid to do it. [Laughs.] It’s kind of shifted over the six years. Now for me it’s really connecting our guests with these animals and sharing the conservation story. Like the amur leopard — no one really knows they exist. That there are only 60 left in the wild and that we are making a difference to save that species is incredible. So my shift has been to share that with our guests and share my passion.
What personality type best thrives in this position? A lot of personality types do well; we are a very diverse group of people. What we all have in common is a passion for what we do; for animals; for making sure they are happy, healthy, really well taken care of; and [spreading the] conservation message.
What would others find surprising about your job? That it’s more than just picking up poop. [Laughs.] What people seem to be surprised by when they ask me that question is the amount of training that we do with our animals and that we are able to train big cats to participate in their health care. And we don’t force them to do that; it’s always their choice. People are always surprised [that we] can train a lion to take a vaccination. … [Also], we spend a lot of time with the guests. We do keeper talks … we do a lot of behind-the-scenes tours. I spend a lot of time out on the public side.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? It depends on the individual facility. At Santa Barbara Zoo, we require a background in biological sciences, so animal science, biology, zoology. I personally have a four-year degree. A lot of facilities are shifting to that higher education and then wanting a lot of experience behind it … any experience with animals so you can start to read [their] body language and subtle cues, [which] will benefit anybody in this career.
Project Designer and Engineer // Bell-Everman // 35 years
by Jean Yamamura
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? I started out at Able Engineering, building a rotary joint for the International Space Station’s solar array, but when I went out on my own, I learned that the patent on such an object is not frequently used. Market research is really necessary. I had made a $100 device, except only about 600 are needed per year. I spent several years consulting, eating mac ’n’ cheese, before my company got off the ground.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? I got into engineering through art and design. Engineering allows art, but it’s a lot harder to get art to finance engineering, like kinetic sculpture, for instance. My pinnacle project, the one that challenged all my engineering experience, is this massively articulating surgical robot. It’s like a third arm for a surgeon. Getting the 10 separately moving pieces to move together as the surgeon directs was difficult on the software side, but it was also a packaging nightmare, like a puzzle.
The 3D printer makes all the difference. They’re 10-12 times faster than machining a model, and you can produce a piece at a time. I can work the bits out rather than the whole, and then, holding it, carrying it around, I can think about how to make it better.
What personality type best thrives in this position? Well, as a kid, my parents were happy if my toys lasted more than a day. I’d take them apart; I couldn’t ever put them back together, either. But drawing and inventing all the time, the mechanical left side of the brain got a workout and also the creative and artistic right side of the brain.
What would others find surprising about the job? I’ve found that when you’re on the way to an impossible goal, spin-offs happen. Your work may not be taking you to where you thought you were going, but don’t feel bad. You’ll end up somewhere, and you’ll embrace it.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? I went to Cal Poly for a bachelor’s in aeronautics, but my scores weren’t good enough, so I went into physics. But I worked with the aeronautics team as an illustrator for a human-powered flight project, so I got my toe in the door for aerospace that way.
Squad Leader // Los Padres Hot Shot Crew // 15 years
by Tyler Hayden
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? When you’re young and new, it’s the fires. As you get more experienced, you learn how many more hazards there really are. The fires become one of the last of your worries. Most fatalities are in aviation, driving, falling trees.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? At first, it was all about being able to work out outside, being in the woods like where I grew up in Mariposa. Working with my hands and trying to improve our forests were big. Now, it’s working with and being able to influence all these amazing young men and women. I’m just constantly getting to meet incredible people — uncommon people coming together to reach a common goal. It’s a really diverse group. They come from all walks of life.
What personality type best thrives in this position? Someone who likes teamwork, can work well with others, and who’s accountable — accountable to themselves and to their crew from November through May. That needs to be their priority.
What would others find surprising about your job? The amount of sacrifice that goes into it. We work 16-hour shifts for 14 straight days. We call them tours; I’ve done six back-to-back. A lot of the time, we don’t have cell phone coverage. Our families and friends really sacrifice, too. All summer, you might get two to four days off a month to spend with them. We also get pretty fatigued toward the end of the season, but I don’t want to say it’s a negative job. I’ve had some of the best times of my life in fires. I work with amazing people, and we keep morale up. I think it’s the best job in the world.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? That’s one of the great things about being a Hot Shot. You just need a high school degree or equivalent. I was fresh out of high school when I joined. There are others who have four-year-college degrees and decided office life wasn’t for them. Overall, it’s a really diverse group. You might be surprised when you see me — I have a lot of tattoos on my throat, hands, arms. We’re extremely professional, but it’s nice to have that kind of leniency. Everyone’s welcome.
Principal // Cleveland Elementary School // 2 years
by Keith Hamm
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? How many eyes were gazing on my very first words when I was introduced to the school. Same goes for being introduced to the families.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? The best thing about the job was meeting new people. I knew I belonged when the students reached out to me with their problems prior to making the wrong decisions. My favorite part now is the stronger relationships I’ve built with these new people.
What personality type best thrives in this position? An “understanding” personality. You have to take in multiple perspectives, ideas, and beliefs to help facilitate the most informed decisions that affect the most students. When things are not going according to plan, I try to read up on the most recent research to help sharpen my understanding. I like to talk to other administrators, especially in other districts, to see how they approach problems. Many of my topics of conversation deal with engaging students and making sure they are being taught at their potential.
What would others find surprising about your job? It requires a lot of time, and much of it is spent dealing with adults rather than students.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? Formal education requirements are a teaching credential and an administrative credential. Being able to speak Spanish helps with the population I serve. [If it were up to me,] I would allow teachers to take on administrative roles. This would allow our talented teacher leaders to start exploring [leadership opportunities].
Bassist // Santa Barbara Symphony, Opera Santa Barbara // 22 Years
by Nick Welsh
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? Being a musician isn’t a scary job. I guess just being the new guy and trying to fit in.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? The quality of the symphony was much better than I thought it would be. I didn’t know anything about Santa Barbara when I moved here. I came from New York City, and Santa Barbara was much smaller. But the quality of the orchestra was much better than I expected, and it just keeps getting better and better.
What kind of personality type thrives in your positon? We tend to think of ourselves as the calm, stable, patient personalities.
What would others find surprising about your job? Just how much concentration is required to play in a symphony orchestra. People don’t understand how much focus it takes. Even when you’re not playing — and not playing for a while — you have to be keeping track so that when you come back in, you come back at exactly the right place. You always have to know exactly where you are. The whole time.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? About 100 percent of the members studied music in college or attended a music school. I attended Juilliard.
Venue Operations Manager // Santa Barbara Bowl // 12 Years
by Richie DeMaria
What was the scariest thing about your job when you first started? The scariest part at that time was when we — my wife, Erica, and I — found out we were being considered for this position on the same day we found out we were expecting a child. We knew our life was gonna change right then. Also, I was sort of a little bit nervous with my inexperience of the position at the time. I probably wouldn’t have been considered for any other place except here, because I was so familiar with its logistics.
What did you like best when you began? What do you like best now? It’s an honor to hold this position. Just being offered this was the best feeling ever. Only one person has this position in all of S.B., and the S.B. Bowl is a pretty neat place. … You just take a lot of pride in it when you have a good team around you, and the place — it feels like it’s better than it’s ever been. It makes you proud to be such a key role in that.
What personality type best thrives in this position? Well, you have to be flexible. Every show day is different. There’s no recipe to making everything work. You have to be friendly and open and be very approachable because you’re working the tour with very professional people you’ve never met before.
What would others find surprising about your job? It’s more involved than people think it is. A show day starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 2 a.m. and goes through different roles all day long. You start the morning off with trucks and buses, and then different departments all start to roll in throughout the day. The promoters crew, the security ushers — they all kind of come to you with everything that they need done or answered. You don’t really get a whole lot of time to enjoy the shows.
What are the formal education or background experiences required for your job? Mine was all learned hands-on on this property. Like I say, I probably would never have been considered for this position anywhere else than right here, and I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else than right here, too.