Pool facilities across the nation are scrambling to fill lifeguard positions before summer kicks into high gear. Some may not find enough qualified candidates and will be forced to limit pool hours or close them altogether.
For weeks leading up to summer, city recreation departments and private health clubs have been spreading the word about employment opportunities, but applications are only trickling in.
Dan Efseaff, parks and natural resources manager for the City of Chico, in northern California, needs to fill 16 part-time seasonal positions to adequately staff Sycamore Pool, a concrete structure with a dam that channels water from Big Chico Creek.
The pool is typically open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This season, however, swimming could be limited to weekends if Efseaff can’t recruit enough lifeguards. The pool’s hours have been reduced before, but not because there were so few willing to keep watch over swimmers, he said.
“I don’t know if there is something lost in the appeal,” Efseaff said, “or if they’re finding other opportunities."
What could possibly lure teens and 20-somethings away from the water? Maybe fire. With much of the state bracing for an unusually wicked wildfire season, some summertime jobseekers may be more interested in fighting fires for higher pay than standing guard poolside for little more than minimum wage.
At least that’s Efseaff’s theory.
“Talking with partners in local recreation districts, they’ve also had a hard time filling their lifeguard rosters,” he said.
But that doesn’t explain what’s going on nationwide.
Reports of lifeguard shortages are coming from KansasTexas, Oklahoma and West Virginia, among other states. Pool managers with staffing struggles may delay their openings or entirely close some pools, according to media reports.
Maybe the problem isn’t a lack of interest, but poor recruitment techniques. David Pickert doesn’t bother with online job boards or job fairs.
“Kids don’t pay attention to those,” said the owner of Southwest Pool Management, which oversees about 70 community pools throughout the greater Houston area.
Pickert uses targeted radio advertising to invite jobseekers to apply online. He said he’ll have no problem filling 400 positions. Here’s a tip: Don’t leave qualified applicants hanging for too long.
“They get uninterested and wander off if you don’t get to them quickly,” he said.