Willoughby Parks and Recreation
Willoughby, Ohio
Category: Lifeguard Management

With increasingly more high school and college students focusing on summer internships, recruiting seasonal lifeguards is an industrywide struggle.

To address this issue, Willoughby Parks and Recreation placed advertisements, attended job fairs, leveraged social media and offered American Red Cross lifeguard classes. When the department still came up short filling positions, Program Coordinator James Clark borrowed a strategy from his past career: referrals.

“In the real estate world, a strong referral network is the lifeblood of your business,” says Clark.

Word of mouth

In late 2017, Clark began building an employee-referral network to increase the department’s reach.

The Ambassadors Program started as a focus group. Clark invited a small group of returning pool staffers to discuss, over lunch, how they could promote summer employment to their peers. The brainstorming session resulted in a targeted word-of-mouth campaign aimed at students who would be most interested in lifeguarding.

Ambassador members used their connections to recommend lifeguard jobs to student athletes from swim teams and other sports, such as football, soccer, basketball and cross-country track. They spoke to students in band, drama clubs, the National Honor Society, Key Club and Scouts.

Clark saw a decent increase in applicants, but he knew more work was needed. In 2018, he expanded the program by inviting all returning pool employees to become Ambassadors. “No prize was offered, just the opportunity to help ‘pick’ good people they would like to work with,” Clark says.

In 2019, the verbal invitation became a line in seasonal application packets given to returning workers. It read: “Ambassadors wanted! Would you be able to help us find more great pool staff like you? We need your help in recruiting a great staff for next season.”

The strategy proved highly effective, with 91 staff members hired for the 2019 pool season. (The minimum target is 80.)

“We had more applications than ever before, and all because of referrals,” Clark says. “For the first time in years, we had enough staff for the entire summer — and to cover time-off requests.”

Training future lifeguards

The ideal lifeguard applicant has excellent skills in the water. However, many teenagers old enough for summer employment have not been in a pool for years.

To prepare interested kids at an early age for the skills and responsibilities of lifeguarding, Willoughby offers Water Adventure Lifeguard Kamp, known as W.A.L.K. The weeklong program for 9- to 14-year-olds teaches basic water safety and rescue skills, prepares swimmers to pass the prerequisites of a lifeguarding class and introduces them to a variety of lifeguarding opportunities.

Participants take field trips to tour beachfront and waterpark facilities, where they can see different examples of lifeguarding and, of course, enjoy those venues.