Swimming lessons are exploding in indoor pools this summer as people emerge from two years of COVID-19 restrictions with a strong desire to get back to their routines.
But while it may seem like business as usual, some recreation centers with aquatic programs have gone to great lengths to hire enough qualified lifeguards to keep the doors open.
“We’re just one disease away from getting into trouble,” said Jeff Brehaut, Recreation Services Manager for the City of Victoria, which operates Crystal Pool. “We are continually trying to attract new rescuers.”
He said despite a nationwide shortage, Crystal Pool is fortunate to have a number of lifeguards who return year after year.
“We have a core group that’s in the 40s that we can call on – that’s the sweet spot for us,” Brehaut said.
In neighboring Saanich, as summer hours returned to Saanich Commonwealth Place on Saturday, the recreation center has a roster of about 60 lifeguards, which is close to their ideal.
“I think we’re past the worst,” said facility manager Jennifer Jakobsen.
She said the facility’s competition pool, wave pool, plunge pool and shallow pool can accommodate up to 500 swimmers on a busy summer day, all overseen by a team. eight to nine lifeguards, a team leader and several other staff supervising the activities.
At a bare minimum, the facility needs three to four lifeguards on duty to open the pool, she said.
Until earlier this year, shortages of qualified staff meant that supervisors had to take turns regularly to keep the pool open.
The staff shortage has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has disrupted lifeguard training for the past two years.
“We would offer the training course, but due to physical distancing guidelines, participants would need to come to class with someone from their bubble – usually a family member – so they could practice. Obviously, that wasn’t ideal or even possible,” Jakobsen said.
Additionally, while all lifeguards must complete the 44-hour National Pool Lifeguard course, those looking to work in indoor recreation center pools also need water park certification, which involves 24 hours. additional training.
This year, staffing at Saanich Commonwealth Place was aided by the temporary closure of the Gordon Head Recreation Center pool to repair the pool slab. It is unclear how many staff will return to this facility once repairs are completed in August.
In Sooke, the SEAPARC leisure complex is experiencing a shortage of qualified swimming instructors, which is affecting swimming lessons this summer and potentially into the fall, according to the Capital Regional District, which oversees the facility.
Andy Orr, senior director of corporate communications for CRD, said SEAPARC plans to offer advanced aquatic courses throughout the summer as part of its ongoing recruitment strategy.
The Rotary Club of Sooke sponsors the training of local student lifeguards, while the Sooke Lions Club sponsors students to take the Water Safety Instructor Course in the fall.
There are a sufficient number of lifeguards, mostly students, at the Panorama Recreation Center in North Saanich, which the CRD also oversees, Orr said.
While facilities in the region are planned for this year, the future is far from certain.
Lifeguards are typically young adults, ages 16 and older, attending high school or post-secondary institutions. Many work multiple pools, racking up shifts and income between classes, studies and an active social life.
This group did not return in the same numbers as in previous years, Jakobsen said.
“While some have moved, others tell us that they have secured employment in their field of study — a full-time career job rather than a casual, adjunct or part-time position, which is all [that] most municipalities offer,” she said, adding that this is a market for job seekers.
“We are living in the ‘big quit’ generation, where people have a lot more choice in the marketplace.”
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