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The ongoing worker shortage is changing how, where and the way we work

Visitors stroll Ocean Avenue in Carmel as businesses search for workers.
Doug McKnight
Visitors stroll Ocean Avenue in Carmel as businesses search for workers.

Sky-high gas prices haven’t stopped visitors from traveling to the Central Coast. A perfect example is Ocean Ave. in Carmel on a Friday afternoon. Tourists stroll the sidewalks, shopping in stores and making dinner reservations in restaurants. Visitors are back; missing are the workers to staff the hotels, restaurants and shops.

Mark Watson manages Inns-by-the-Sea, a collection of five boutique hotels. He is also Chair of the Monterey County Hospitality Association. He believes the same factors that are disrupting the economy are slowing the return of workers.

“The gas prices in particular have played a big part in the loss of workers," Watson said.

He feels a lot of people would love to work on the Monterey Peninsula, but they can’t afford to rent here. Now, the cost of commuting from more affordable areas has gone through the roof and even though workers may earn less, it makes more sense to work closer to home. Some workers have found jobs outside the hospitality industry and haven’t returned.

The industry is trying to encourage them to return with high wages.

“There's been a lot of pay increases. I know we've had three in the last year and a half just here at our company,” he said.

Increasing wages have caused some workers to job hop, move from one job to another for a bigger paycheck. To prevent that, some restaurants and hotels are offering signing bonuses for workers who stay on the job for a specified time.

The demand for workers is also affecting those just joining the job market.

A survey by job website shows that employers will hire 25 percent more college graduates this year. And, those new employees will make more money.

Rhonda Mercadal Evens is a career director at Cal State Monterey Bay. She works with students to help them find jobs.

“Students can choose where they want to go and what salary they would like to make,” Evens said.

Salary, however, is not always the most important factor. The Monster survey shows college graduates favor working remotely, even over things like health care benefits. More than a third of those surveyed said they wouldn’t even consider a job that doesn’t include working from home.

But many employers want their employees to be in the office full-time.

“A lot of times I have to have that conversation that these jobs want you to be in the office, want you to live in this area,” Evans said.

That requirement is making many young job seekers re-think the 9-to-5 office job. An increasing number of workers are now self-employed: working from project to project in the gig economy or starting their own business.

Brad Barbeau is a professor of entrepreneurship and economics at Cal State Monterey Bay. He says many of those remote workers are using their new found flexibility to move to quieter, less expensive and more scenic areas.

“We're seeing huge growth in Big Sky, Montana, for example. Lake Tahoe has exploded and the real estate prices along with it,'' Barbeau said.

As people rethink where they work and how they work, businesses are also adapting. With fewer workers, businesses are using technology and even the customers themselves to fill in the gaps. Look no further than your last dinner out to see the changes.

“We see that when we go into restaurants and they're having us order electronically, and limit the amount of wait staff that they need,” Barbeau said.

As businesses rehire and workers head back, both sides are rethinking what going to work really means.

Doug joined KAZU in 2004 as Development Director overseeing fundraising and grants. He was promoted to General Manager in 2009 and is currently retired and working part time in membership fundraising and news reporting at KAZU.
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