Aquatic facilities recruiting lifeguards now
It was once the definitively cool summer job. Indeed, it was a kind of rite of passage for teens, who, donning the iconic red suits, could save lives while making some hardearned cash. But nowadays, every spring there are fears that there won’t be enough lifeguards to keep the country’s pools open.
It is a trend that has been going on for the past several years, and this year is no different, with pool facilities predicting that they will be forced to delay opening if they can’t get enough lifeguards.
There is a nationwide lifeguard shortage.
Public pools across southern Arizona are struggling to fill lifeguard positions.
Billy Sassi, the City of Tucson's aquatics manager, said he wasn't able to open all of the city’s 20 pools over the past few years. Last year, he was only able to open 12 pools due to the pandemic and staffing issues.
This season, he said he hopes to get enough guards to open for the major summer months.
“If I had about 250 guards that would be great. That would be double what we had last year,” he said.
On the East Coast, the lifeguard recruitment season is also officially underway – months ahead of when it normally starts.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city is trying to fill 400 lifeguard positions to open all of the city’s public pools this summer.
This early recruitment effort follows a challenging 2021 summer season, which caused fewer than 70% of the city’s roughly 70 outdoor pools to open due to a lifeguard shortage.
Buffalo, New York, has launched its “Make a Splash” lifeguard recruitment to ensure the city pools open this summer.
According to the city, it is looking to bring on and train 100 people between the ages of 16 and 21 to address a lifeguard shortage.
Buffalo’s Mayor Byron Brown says it’s all hands on deck as they put out a call to young people to become a City of Buffalo Lifeguard.
“Like many cities across the country, Buffalo is experiencing a lifeguard shortage, which threatens our ability to open all of our great pools this summer.
To ensure that we are able to open on time, we need to start training new lifeguards today,” the mayor said.
In Connecticut, some are ramping up their recruitment campaigns sooner than usual in hope of locking in candidates.
“This is early for us. We’re not usually doing this until March or April,” Parks and Recreation Director Theodore Fravel said in early February.
A Lake Compounce, a Connecticut water park that doesn’t even open until well into June is trying to get trainees signed up now.
In the past, applicants paid $300 for certification, but this year the park is covering that fee and has pushed entry-level pay up to $3 more than minimum wage.
“Those jobs were hard to fill for a while, but now with the pandemic it’s even tougher,” said Lynsey Waters, communications director at Lake Compounce.
Similar statements have been made by parks and rec directors all along the eastern seaboard including Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, where last year, the shortage shuttered summer camps, water parks, and beaches.
American Lifeguard Association and the YMCA of the USA have also reported shortages. The YMCA Greater Cleveland, Ohio, location is reporting long wait lists for swim lessons amidst the shortage.
Beach cities are also reporting trouble finding enough guards to man their towers. The last few years have seen a decline in lifeguards at North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“Unfortunately, due to Covid and the past several years, we’ve seen a reduction in our numbers,” said LCpl. Monty Reed with the North Myrtle Beach Patrol. “2020 was our lowest, and then we had about 77 last year, and we would hope to get closer to 100 this year.”
To attract people to join the North Myrtle Beach Ocean Rescue lifeguard team, the city has raised the pay.
For the upcoming season, tower lifeguards will earn $15-$17/hr. while supervisor lifeguards will earn $17-$19/hr.
And as reported by the Northwest Florida Daily News, recruitment efforts in Bay, Walton, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa counties are not panning out as hoped. Despite higher pay and other incentives, not enough people are applying for the jobs. and fewer still are qualified.
Navarre Beach Safety Director Austin Turnbull has been recruiting like a college football coach, but says it’s hard for everyone to find employees. “The shortage we have going on right now is a huge thing,” Turnbull said.