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Around the country, the challenge of populating lifeguard stands continues.

As the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals warned the aquatics industry that the problem will continue in 2018, anecdotes from other organizations and individual professionals reinforce that expectation.

Just before Memorial Day, APSP publicly worried that commercial pools and spas would have to delay opening due to staffing shortages. According to the group’s lobbyist, the rate of visa denials has risen this year. “The most dramatic denials are coming from Ukraine and possibly Serbia as well,” said APSP President and CEO Lawrence Caniglia. “Visa denials have been running as high as 90% from those countries, compared to the more normal 50%.”

Many expect the situation to hit hardest in the Mid-Atlantic, where many areas have more stringent lifeguard laws, as well as the waterpark-rich Wisconsin Dells. However, the visa shortage likely will affect pockets throughout the country, where isolated municipalities require lifeguards even at hotels, motels, apartments and condos, Caniglia said. “What we thought was more of a localized ... issue is also around many parts of the country,” he said. “But it’s not as concentrated — it’s more spotty.”

Once again, visa declines or not, the lifeguard shortage has aquatics professionals looking for every possible idea to generate more interest in the jobs. Even more facilities are beginning to pay for certification and training to fill stands, said Juliene R. Hefter, executive director/CEO of the Association of Aquatic Professionals.

“A lot of our members are trying to be as creative as possible to get staff,” she said.

That’s certainly the case for Green Bay (Wisc.) Parks, Recreation and Forestry. According to Recreation Supervisor Ann Moeller, 10 out of 50 full-time lifeguarding positions remain empty a week before the pools are scheduled to open. The department has begun to consider taking advantage of a change in the law that now allows 15-year-olds to lifeguard. “I’m sticking with 16 years for now,” she says. “But I do hire 15-year-olds to work at our concession stands. So it’s in my back pocket.”

In the meantime, she’ll try to generate interest and maybe even begin the training process among the 15-year-olds in the hopes they’ll come back in 2019, a year older and ready to lifeguard.

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