Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica Looks to Thriving Hospitality Industry for Employment
By Jason Islas
October 14, 2013 -- For residents of the wealthy seaside city who are out of work, Santa Monica's economic success and relatively low unemployment are little more than numbers on paper.
While Santa Monica's unemployment rate has dropped from 10.5 percent in 2010 to approximately 7.6 percent in April, a significant portion of the city's working population -- about 4,400 -- remain consistently out of work.
But with a multi-billion dollar hospitality industry thriving in the 8.3 square miles of prime seaside real estate, Santa Monica, through a combination of job training programs and requirements that give residents first dibs at jobs in new developments, wants to harness that success for some of the bayside city's less fortunate members.
“A big part of the unemployment issues that come with certain populations is that the training and education need to be there,” said Nia Tang, a senior development analyst with the Department of Housing and Economic Development.
The City Council often requires developers to sign local hiring provisions mandating that they first look at low-income Santa Monica residents when trying to fill positions. However, if those candidates aren't qualified, developers cannot be compelled to hire them.
“It's public policy, but we can't mandate developers to higher people from a certain neighborhood,” Tang said.
That's why the City wants to focus on giving opportunities for Santa Monica's youth to gain the skills necessary to get work, she said.
Most recently, the City Council voted to fund a new jobs training program to the tune of $239,688 as part of the City's Cradle-to-Career initiative, a network of nonprofit and City-run programs designed to assist disadvantaged youth.
Run by Hospitality Training Academy (HTA) and St. Joseph Center, the new program would target young adults aged 18 to 24 who find themselves consistently out of work and train them for careers in the hospitality and service industry, which employs 12,595 of Santa Monica's workforce.
The City itself hires about 125 student workers as junior pool lifeguards, police cadets and to fill other entry-level positions.
It also runs a two-year trade internship program that has graduated some 15 youth in four years, officials said.
“The City is doing its best to help the youth, but it's challenging,” said Tang. “This is a new frontier for them.”
Construction, another field that requires vocational training but is still accessible to those without four-year degrees, employs 1,452 people in Santa Monica.
“We just don't have a lot of construction people,” Tang said, adding that a dry-wall installer making $60,000 a year will likely have trouble affording a home in the bayside city.
Santa Monica College used to offer classes in the construction trade, but canceled them due to low demand, she said.
“We're trying to figure out a creative way to help our special needs population,” said Tang, adding that the City already spends about $9 million a year for job training programs and other support services to help poor and homeless individuals.
“Local hiring is about providing jobs to people who currently live here,” she said. And since the tourist industry is both accessible and seems only to be growing, it is a logical place to focus the City's efforts.
After the hospitality industry, most Santa Monicans -- about 11,000 -- work as architects, computer programmers or other jobs that require at least four-year degrees and technical expertise.
“If tech is the trend and we want to really focus on the middle-class jobs to make sure we have a balanced community,” Tang said, then expanding programs like the City's Youth Technology Program, which gives students exposure the “Silicon Beach” business sector, could be a strategy.
Still, there's no guarantee that students who go on to study tech trades at colleges across the country would come back to Santa Monica and contribute to the city's homegrown workforce, officials said.
“We, as a small city, actually do quite a bit,” Tang said, but there's room to expand “a safety net for those who are a little bit more challenged.”
If the Hospitality Training Academy program is a success, Tang said, the City could continue funding it for another year.
Still, she cautioned that it's “not a quick fix,” since employment issues are complicated.
“I believe we need a coordinated approach,” Tang said. “It needs to be an interdepartmental effort.”
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