Help Wanted; are we looking at a national Lifeguard shortage?

As I troll the internet looking for news stories related to aquatics i am noticing a very real and scary trend over the past few weeks; there aren't enough Lifeguards.  In  Tulsa Oklahoma  the city was unable to open all five of their pools when scheduled last week due to a shortage of Lifeguards.  According to Tulsa Parks spokesperson Rob Hendrick the staff was five or six Lifeguards short of the number needed to safely open the last pool.  In Columbus Ohio the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department was looking for as many as 30 additional Lifeguards to reopen three pools that had  not had a full season since 2009 due to citywide budget cuts.  Nearby the West Jefferson Municipal Pool was able to open after a scare last  month when the Village had only secured  three of the necessary eight guards.  Thankfully two proactive citizens stepped up and helped recruit nineteen more applicants.  The most striking story comes from Minneapolis Minnesota where over the weekend a sixteen year old drowned at a beach that was slated to have Lifeguards but didn't because the Parks and Recreation Board has been unable to secure enough guards to staff all of their swimming areas.  "We need to have Lifeguards on, we want to have Lifeguards on" said spokesperson Dawn Sommers.  

Speaking for myself I know that last summer we had over 25 certified applicants report for our pre-interview tryouts, a few of whom hadn't even applied with us yet and thus not gotten a call inviting them, and this year we didn't even get 10 certified applicants.  We also lost a few of our dedicated returners because of some high profile budget concerns causing them to seek other jobs prior to our hiring process.  In a conversation with the operator across the river we both asked the other if they had any surplus guards come out of their most recent Lifeguarding class because we weren't seeing the number of applications we'd like.

What are the causes? Could it get worse?  What can we do?  These are all questions I have been asking myself for the past few weeks, and i bet many other operators are asking as well.  I think the answers are going to be very diverse.  Certainly as the fate of pools and recreation programs becomes more bleak across the county due to the economy people are less likely to apply for a job they might not get  to keep, especially if they may have cough up more than $100 to become certified for that job.  With the highly criticized increases in Red Cross fees as well as the elimination of the challenge option in the r.2012 Lifeguarding program, guards may be less willing to return as their certification approaches expiration because they don't relish the prospect of paying to attend a  twelve hour review course. *the purpose of this blog is not to criticize the Red Cross for either of those decisions I am merely  repeating concerns and theories I have heard. Possible solutions are going to probably have to be just as diverse as the possible causes, and could include adapting to a hire-first, certify-second model similar to many surf rescue agencies, or active recruiting through local High Schools and Colleges possibly involving work study programs.  Recruiting active seniors has already been a growing trend possibly it will grow even more.


Have you seen a Lifeguard shortage in your area? Do you know the cause?  Do you have ideas to solve the problem?



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Comment by Nick Bacon on June 23, 2012 at 9:24am

reinforcing my theory? i wouldn't have let any swimmers in without at least 2 Guards on duty. We're trained to work in teams of at least 2.

Comment by Barbara Iwan-Limbo on June 18, 2012 at 7:58pm

It seems to me there is a very BIG gap between the training in Canada and USA.  I would be laughed out of their trainings as many of my staff would be too.  I believe the Canadians take the training much more serious and it should be.  I get frustrated teaching lifeguarding to kids in the states that think lifeguarding is going to be an easy job.  Point in case.  I had a regular patron today appear to be either having a seizure or ministroke.  The lifeguards on deck get him to the front area of pool admintance area to have a seat.  I am called out of my office to come talk to him.  Not a one of them stayed to see the outcome.  I advise them to call 911 and to get ahold of his wife.  This is a regular patron.  Had they taken the time to get to know him he is 77, had a stroke about 8 years ago.  Has since not had any issues, comes works out on the machines, and swims.  Today he was pale, shaking and just in general body functions were not working well togehter.  I sometimes we try to prepare these lifeguards to repond then they doubt themselves so try to put it off on their supervisor.  I am glad to help and was today as he is a good friend to me.  He and his wife listened to me as we got the amulance there.  They called back this afternoon he is fine.  Guess my point is we train, then they find out that they "Might" have to react!  DO SOMETHING..........I personally think it is commitment.  You have it or you don't.  We have 3 outdoor facilies and 1 indoor with 2 bodies of water on one deck..  Each facility has it's own personalities and some more than other lack the CUTTING OF THE APRON STRINGS! 

Comment by Julia Goolia on June 13, 2012 at 1:15pm

What a shame.  Where I live, in Ontario, lifeguard jobs seem (at least to me) to be incredibly competitive, and I have to drive 50 minutes to get to the only place that would take me! I would kill to guard at an outdoor pool (I work at an indoor waterpark) and have gone to several interviews and tryouts to no avail.  (And it's not my skills that are lacking, or that I'm really a terrible lifeguard, I just don't have connections, or am never right place right time.)  I guess I'll have to think about moving down South!

Comment by Nick Bacon on June 13, 2012 at 10:32am

I agree that pay might be a factor. I know that locally we're stuck paying our entry level Guards minimum wage (which at $9.04/hr is the highest in the nation) but it's hard for us to consider paying more when each year minimum wage increases (last year it was $8.67/hr)

Comment by Gary Thill on June 13, 2012 at 9:20am

Great blog, Nick! We've been looking into this issue and what we're hearing is it comes down to pay. Facilities that can pay a decent, competitive wage don't seem to be suffering lifeguard shortages. I wonder if this has more to do with continued budget shortfalls than anything else. That said, your suggestions on how to attract and recruit more guards are worth exploring. Look forward to seeing what others have to say... 

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