Workin’ It (Mostly from Home) in 2021
A Glimpse of Santa Barbara’s Job Scene Emerging from the Pandemic
By Indy Staff and Our Readers | June 24, 2021
Due to the continuing repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global job market is facing more tumult and turbulence than at any time in modern history. Unlike the relatively familiar roadmaps back to offices and factories that existed following the two World Wars, today’s employers and employees are lurching back toward “normalcy” amid unprecedented uncertainty and ever-changing technology. There are the known-knowns (we worked from home, and it worked!), the perplexing known-unknowns (does anyone want to go back to the office?), and then the downright scary unknown-unknowns (cue: next pandemic, hacking attack, alien invasion).
Though our beautiful mountains and shimmering seas provide welcome distractions, Santa Barbara is not insulated from this reality. Indeed, we may be taking it on the teeth more than most, at least when it comes to hiring.
Our crucial hospitality industry lost a bulk of its frontline workforce when the colleges sent students home, and the repeat closures and layoffs forced other longtime employees to find new careers. Companies that once used our surroundings as a lure for big-city refugees are now competing with every other business on the planet, because everyone’s working from wherever they live, whether that’s next door or 2,000 miles away.
Meanwhile, real estate prices here are more astronomical than ever, which makes attracting even highly skilled workers rather precarious. Add to all that a general malaise about returning to work life as we once knew it — if people got by over the past 15 months with a lot more free time on their hands, then should they be signing up for a full-time office job anyway?
Altogether, while hiring is at an all-time high, very few seem interested in the available jobs. Many believe that problem will cease when the expanded unemployment benefits end in September. Others fear the problem will persist due to the increased minimum wage, which is throwing curveballs into fair-wage expectations up and down and pay scale. But really, no one seems to know exactly what’s going on.
Into that cloud, we throw this year’s Workin’ It issue, our annual attempt to provide some insight into Santa Barbara’s job market. To do so this year, we polled our readers, asking them about their pandemic work realities and what they expect for the future. (Short answer: a mix of working from home and the office, rather than just one or the other.) Then we asked our reporters to cover a few bases, touching on career trends, real estate projections, personal work-from-home sagas, and potential solutions for problems caused by the “new normal.”
We hope this shines a bit of light into the shadows of today’s job market. Only time will tell. —Matt Kettmann