From coast to coast, a widespread shortage of lifeguards is causing closures and limited hours of operation for public swimming pools and aquatic facilities.
“We’re having to downsize. It’s pretty challenging. We’ve put our brains together and worked this through. We came up with what we think is the best for safety and the quality of our patrons without overworking our staff,” said Sylvia Gurtowski, the manager of City Pool in Vicksburg, Miss., to a reporter with the Vicksburg Post.
While the shortage of lifeguards has become a perennial refrain, the issue has been exacerbated by the overall labor shortage; fewer and fewer young adults are opting for summer jobs in favor of summer school or internships. Compounding the matter even further are changes to immigration policy — in particular, U.S. State Department’s J-1 Summer Work Visa Program — that are depriving facilities of summer workers coming to the U.S. from Europe and elsewhere.
“For decades, thousands of college students from around the world have traveled to the U.S. each summer to work and experience American culture before returning in September for the new academic year,” says Jennifer Hatfield, director of government affairs for The Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. “Their period of availability makes it ideal for students to participate in this program. However, the extreme vetting that has occurred over the last few years makes it harder for employers to coordinate travel and fill essential seasonal positions...Many pool companies that rely on J-1 visa recruits will have delayed openings, especially in the Mid-Atlantic areas, as they continue to wait for more recruits to be cleared for travel.”
Hatfield reports that the PHTA’s J-1 Coalition “has been working aggressively to combat the impact of seasonal workforce shortages on the pool and hot tub industry.” The coalition consists of member companies that generate revenue by staffing community pools and aquatic centers. The coalition has been pressing member of Congress to consider the consequences of making changes to the J-1 program.
Meanwhile in towns such as Cicero, N.Y., city officials are trying to fill staffing gaps by appealing to older Millennials and Gen Xers, as well as those who have jobs with summers off, like teachers. In some areas, parks and recs officials are even turning to retirees with lifeguard experience as a possible resource.