Wednesday, September 28 , 2016, 8:28 pm | Fair 69º

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Business

Santa Barbara County’s Changing Labor Market Fuels Business Discussion

Panelists at Workforce Investment Board forum discuss growing and diminishing industries, as well as employee skill sets found lacking

Santa Barbara County’s economy is not in a jobless recovery, according to Josh Williams, president of BW Research Partnership Inc.

“It’s a changing recovery, meaning some industries are going up and some are going down,” Williams said. “Understand that industry clusters represent a better way of segmenting and understanding the economy rather than just trying to look at it from a general perspective.”

While Santa Barbara County remained at an unadjusted 8.9 percent unemployment rate from February to March, there are job openings in certain industries, Williams noted Friday morning at the Workforce Investment Board’s Santa Barbara County Employment Forecast at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion.

He defined six industry clusters, or geographic concentrations of interconnected companies — energy and environment, health care, agriculture, tourism and wineries, technology and innovation, business support services, and building and design.

Williams said he expects the technology, energy and building industries to grow the most in the next three years.

On the other hand, he added, the public sector is downsizing, retail is sputtering, transportation jobs are decreasing and the construction industry is rebounding very slowly.

“A good barometer of the local economy’s health is the business support services, which are growing and seeing a lot of change,” Williams said. “As they go, the general macro-economy in Santa Barbara County will go.”

A panel of business leaders followed Williams’ presentation, including SBCC acting President Jack Friedlander, Riverbench Vineyard general manager Laura Mohseni, emPowerSBC manager Angela Hacker, Lesa Caputo of Beneflex Insurance Services, JM Holliday & Associates project manager Michelle Swanitz and Impulse Advanced Communications president Dave Clark.

Pacific Coast Business Times senior editor Stephen Nellis moderated the panel, who discussed what types of skills they are looking for and characteristics lacking in some of their recent hires. They found that some of their workers don’t handle problem-solving well, lack creativity, don’t communicate effectively and aren’t self-motivated.

“SBCC offers specific training for existing employees; the Professional Development Center is specifically designed for people in the workforce,” Friedlander said. “Employers want more interdisciplinary skills and not so specialized skills, because it’s important to draw upon knowledge from multiple areas because things have to be done more efficiently.”

Williams said three out of five Santa Barbara employers are having some difficulty finding qualified applicants with adequate industry experience. Most recent hires lack technical skills specific to the position and communication skills, according to local employers.

Williams broke down the county labor market into three tiers: Tier 1 occupations are typically the high-skilled and highest-paying jobs, Tier 2 occupations include middle-wage positions and Tier 3 occupations usually represent the lower-skilled service jobs that require little training and education.

Santa Barbara County’s Tier 1 workers make up 27 percent of the overall workforce compared with California’s 22 percent, Tier 2 employees are 44 percent of the total workforce compared with the state’s 59 percent and Tier 3 workers make up 29 percent of the overall workforce compared with the state’s 19 percent.

Williams said too many job seekers don’t have the education or training to qualify for Tier 2 positions.

“Something interesting that Josh spoke to was that it’s not so much about occupations anymore, it’s about the skill set you have,” WIB executive director Raymond McDonald said. “If you have those skill sets, you can move into the better-paying jobs.”

For the labor market to improve, Williams said, employees need to utilize resources such as SBCC to learn specific skills for growing industries and Santa Barbara needs to be smart about its growth.

“Santa Barbara is sometimes perceived in some ways as anti-growth,” he said. “I think we need to say growth is OK, but we need make it smart and manage it.”

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkBiz, @noozhawk and @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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