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Why is there a lifeguard shortage? Staffing to blame for pool closures

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Lifeguard Mark Black watches swimmers on the Kearns Oquirrh Park Health Middle pool in Kearns on June 10. Some swimming pools have needed to restrict availability on account of employees shortages. (Mengshin Lin, Deseret Information)

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SALT LAKE CITY — As labor shortages proceed to plague just about each sector of the American financial system, your native swimming pool is likely to be the most recent to really feel the ache.

That is as a result of swimming pools and recreation facilities throughout the nation are dealing with a extreme scarcity of lifeguards and swim instructors — the worst such scarcity in no less than a decade, by some accounting. Nationally, almost 8 out of 10 parks departments haven’t got sufficient employees, in keeping with the Nationwide Recreation and Park Affiliation.

Issues aren’t any totally different in Utah, the place swimming pools are simply barely conserving their operations afloat, and a few have needed to drastically cut back hours and even delay their seasonal openings on account of being understaffed.

Why is there a lifeguard scarcity?

In some ways, the scarcity of lifeguards isn’t any totally different than labor shortages at eating places and grocery shops, and so they’re seemingly attributable to the identical set of things. After disruptions to work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, youthful employees are more and more looking for jobs with greater pay, extra flexibility and fewer stress.

For David Grey, who runs human sources for Lagoon Amusement Park, lifeguards are only one small a part of the seasonal expertise he’s continually racing to recruit.

“This 12 months it has been much more of a wrestle to draw candidates to the lifeguard place, extra so than we have seen previously,” he stated. “However, we wrestle in all of our seasonal positions. … I would not say it is a a lot bigger wrestle than any of our others, for meals service and video games and merchandise, these have been a wrestle as nicely.”

“There have been loads of articles that there’s a lifeguard scarcity, and I discover that attention-grabbing, as a result of to me, there’s not a lifeguard scarcity. There is a labor scarcity for summer season work,” he continued.

A lifeguard at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center watches swimmers at the pool in Kearns on June 10.
A lifeguard on the Kearns Oquirrh Park Health Middle watches swimmers on the pool in Kearns on June 10. (Photograph: Mengshin Lin, Deseret Information)

Though lifeguards are required to finish coaching as a way to work, Grey factors out that it isn’t a job like that of a nurse or a health care provider, which requires years of specialised training and coaching. Most swimming pools present on-the-job coaching for potential guards, which — previously — has made it a great various to working quick meals for a lot of youngsters and school college students, Grey stated.

Amongst different traits, Grey stated he has observed that a rise in summer season packages — camps, music, faculty, athletics — has decreased the variety of college students who need a summer season job, and restricted the supply of many job seekers.

It is turning into extra widespread to interview potential hires who can solely work one or two days per week, making it more durable to fill each shift within the schedule.

Why the lifeguard scarcity issues

Even with shortages throughout the board, Grey notes that lifeguards current an issue that may’t be simply remedied with inventive scheduling or group. Being brief a couple of lifeguards does not imply longer strains on the ticket workplace or the concession stand, it could put patrons in actual hazard.

“We now have an obligation that we take extraordinarily critically,” Grey stated. “If we now have visitors in our swimming pools or in our slides, there have to be a lifeguard current. If we did not have a lifeguard to function the slide or to observe the water to maintain our visitors secure, we would not function these areas.”

How the scarcity is affecting Utah swimming pools

Lagoon hasn’t needed to reduce but, though different swimming pools have not been as fortunate. The Liberty Park Pool in Salt Lake Metropolis usually opens on Memorial Day weekend, however on account of lack of staffing, Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation — which operates Liberty Park — needed to push again opening day by no less than a couple of weeks at a number of swimming pools.

The Liberty Park Pool opened Saturday however was solely scheduled to function for restricted hours on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays — Independence Day and Labor Day — for the remainder of the summer season.

The Redwood Pool in West Valley Metropolis is not slated to open till July 1, until issues change that will permit it to open sooner.

Liz Sollis, spokeswoman for the county, stated she has heard from patrons who’re annoyed by the closures and understands the downsides of getting restricted availability — particularly as Utah is blanketed with heat waves — however stated security is at all times their prime concern.

Given the excessive temperatures, outside swimming pools just like the one at Liberty Park have to have sufficient lifeguards on employees to rotate them inside in order that nobody is uncovered to the summer season warmth for the whole thing of their shift. With out enough staffing, the pool employees are compelled to shorten the working hours — like they did Monday when the pool was solely open from 11 a.m. to three p.m.

Sollis stated she is aware of some have complained that if resorts or different swimming pools often function with out lifeguards, the county-operated swimming pools ought to too. However, she factors out that daylight and shade make it more durable to see by means of the water in outside swimming pools, necessitating extra highly-trained observers than are wanted in small, occasionally used areas.

“I feel loads of instances when individuals take into consideration lifeguards, they assume they’re there for teenagers, however a lifeguard is there for everybody,” Sollis stated. “We have had adults who’ve had issues occur once they’re swimming, and it is required a life-saving response.”

Lifeguard Mark Black watches swimmers at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center pool in Kearns on June 10.
Lifeguard Mark Black watches swimmers on the Kearns Oquirrh Park Health Middle pool in Kearns on June 10. (Photograph: Mengshin Lin, Deseret Information)

Based on Evelyn Everton, spokeswoman for town of Sandy, stated the Alta Canyon Sports activities Middle pool is experiencing a scarcity of about 50% in comparison with earlier years. The pool hasn’t needed to reduce hours, however they’ve decreased facilities like swimming classes due to the same scarcity of swimming instructors.

Everton advised the Deseret Information in an e-mail that the scarcity is the worst they’ve skilled in no less than 12 years. She cited issues much like what Grey talked about, saying many workers have restricted availabilities and only some hours that they’re free to work every week

What’s subsequent?

Like many different companies, swimming pools have tried quite a lot of incentives to get extra individuals to work, beginning with elevated wages.

Lagoon has provided bonuses to workers who keep on by means of the summer season and Alta Canyon is offering lifeguards with free health club memberships and reductions on different metropolis facilities.

Liberty Park Pool is providing elevated wages that go as excessive as $19 per hour based mostly on certification stage and prior expertise.

However have the elevated perks truly helped? Grey stated enterprise and hiring are at all times “cyclical,” and whereas he sees issues turning round in some unspecified time in the future sooner or later, he does not count on a fast repair.

Others paint an excellent much less rosy image of their efforts to spice up hiring.

“We don’t assume it has helped in our case or every other case within the valley,” Everton stated.

Grey, Sollis and Everton all emphasised that they are going to proceed to recruit lifeguards all through the summer season and inspired these to use on their web sites.

Lifeguards at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center watch swimmers at the pool in Kearns on June 10.
Lifeguards on the Kearns Oquirrh Park Health Middle watch swimmers on the pool in Kearns on June 10. (Photograph: Mengshin Lin, Deseret Information)

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