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Lifeguard Recruitment a Challenge in Some US Cities

Tabatha Wethal

Officials in some cities across the United States are having trouble recruiting enough lifeguards to staff beaches and pools this summer season.

In Milwaukee, County Parks marketing communications manager Ian Everett said the shortage is part of a national downward trend.

"Funding is only part of it," Everett told OnMilwaukee.com. "We were able to increase the hourly rate for lifeguards this year, but we still haven’t had enough people apply."

The parks department is planning to keep two indoor pools closed this summer, but four other pools are scheduled to open, pending staffing levels, he said.

The county is looking at adding hiring incentives, but Everett said the shutdown last summer amid the coronavirus pandemic may have a domino effect on this season, too.

"Beach lifeguards need specific open water training, too, so they’re typically 'returning lifeguards' who have pool experience and the training," Everett said. "With no pools open last summer, our experienced lifeguards found other jobs, so we don’t have any returning lifeguards."

In Peterborough, New Hampshire, parks officials are also seeing a lack of lifeguard applicants, and the guards they have recruited are backlogged because of training and certification programs that were halted during the pandemic.

"This is exceptional," Peterborough Parks and Recreation director Lisa Betz told the Keene Sentinel. "I haven't had to sweat it like I am now. I haven't had to potentially close to lifeguarding or put it at 'swim at your own risk' because we may not have lifeguards."

She said travel restrictions have reduced the number of college and foreign-exchange students who are looking for lifeguarding work.

A parks department in Columbia, Missouri, put out a call to the community for more lifeguards because it had only 46 of a required 70 positions filled. A week later, the department had only 10 more applicants, according to a Columbia Tribune report. That means city pools will open later in the season or possibly close.

"We’re experiencing the same challenges with hiring staff that many are facing right now," Columbia Parks and Recreation director Mike Griggs said in a news release last week. "If we don’t have adequate staffing at our pools to ensure safety for our pool users, then that leaves us no choice but to shorten our pool season and possibly not open some facilities. These are difficult decisions but we are hopeful we will still be able to add staff for the summer."

Andy Bohannon, parks and recreation director in Keene, said the cost of certification is a challenge for some potential employees, so one strategy officials are using is to offer to foot the bill in order to recruit more staff.

"You gotta go out and pay anywhere between $300 and $400 to become certified, and think about it — when you were 15 or 16, did you have $300 or $400 in your pocket?" he said. "So we gotta find ways to gain good employees."

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