Navigating the Lifeguard Shortage
Jessica Heller, an American Red Cross health and safety instructor and owner of Heller Safety Solutions, shares tips for hiring lifeguards, despite the national lifeguard shortage.
Health clubs and aquatics facilities across the nation are feeling the impact of the national lifeguard shortage. While this is no new problem and has been on the radar of those in aquatics over the last four to five years, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the issue.
Jessica Heller, an American Red Cross health and safety instructor and owner of Heller Safety Solutions, said the shortage is due to multiple factors all coming together. One of those factors is the losing of younger workers.
“High school students aren’t working as much as they had in the past,” said Heller. “They are preferring to spend time having experiences like going to camps and traveling. During the school year, extra-curriculars and college prep coursework are taking up more of their time than in the past, so they don’t want to work much then, either.”
It isn’t just high school students losing interest in the positions. Hellers said college students aren’t staying with lifeguarding jobs as long as they have in the past. Many of them are gravitating toward career-related internships over summer and part-time jobs, even if they are unpaid.
While the younger generations drifting away from summer jobs is just one factor, a major cause of the lifeguard shortage is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With COVID-related restrictions over the past year, there haven’t been as many training options available for potential new lifeguards to get trained and certified,” explained Heller. “Of those facilities offering training, they have had to focus on recertifying and retraining past staff and just haven’t had time, energy or facility space to run classes for new lifeguards.”
Despite these challenges, your facility needs trained and certified lifeguards to keep your pools safe. Below, Heller — in her own words — shares seven tips for hiring lifeguards.
- Young people are looking for flexible schedules. This may make managers’ jobs more difficult when putting together schedules, but flexibility in scheduling will be necessary with current and upcoming young people.
2. Facilities need to offer the training, instead of expecting applicants to have already had the training. Aquatics facilities need to have a lifeguard instructor on staff and be offering classes regularly, both to potential hires and to the community. It is every aquatic facility’s responsibility to put more lifeguards out there.
3. National training organizations need to train more lifeguard instructors. In my state and many others, just finding a class to become a lifeguarding instructor is very difficult, because there aren’t enough lifeguard instructor trainers.
4. Facilities need to do a better job selling the soft skills learned as a lifeguard, which will help with future work endeavors. Conflict resolution, communication, networking, customer service, cleanliness, teamwork, focus, time management, work ethic and facility management are all skills that lifeguards will learn throughout their time working in the field.
5. Lifeguarding can be a boring job. Much of the time is spent on watching and anticipating, rather than on reacting with dramatic lifesaving moves. Clubs can do more to engage their lifeguards by getting them involved in other positions around the club, in addition to lifeguarding. Get them certified as swim instructors or water exercise instructors. Have them work in concessions or childcare. Send them to staff the booth at community outreach events. Mix it up for them to break up the monotony and give them more work experiences and contact with your membership and the community as a whole.
6. Be creative about who you hire. Off-duty firefighters or EMTs, recent retirees that want to get out of the house and stay-at-home parents who will work if they have childcare are all good options to work lifeguard shifts. Don’t just rely on hiring teenagers and college students.
7. Facilities need to pay according to the level of responsibility lifeguards are expected to take on. They must take a nearly 30-hour class just to become a lifeguard, and then they are responsible for safety and lives. As first responders, they need to be paid accordingly, or they will find other jobs that pay the same and require less work and responsibility.