It’s been two years in the making, and now AOAP has rolled out its new Aquatic Professional Designation.

The AqP designation shows that its bearer has, according to AOAP, “the education, background and training for what [we] believe describes an aquatic individual.”

Applicants must be members of the Association of Aquatic Professionals and undergo an online application process. As a person goes through that process, they will see listed the requirements, experience and CEUs that they must meet or already have acquired to attain the AqP designation.

Documentation must be provided to support the statements in the application, which goes to AOAP’s national office for evaluation and ultimate determination of whether to grant the AqP designation. If, for example, they already have a lifeguard instructor and/or water safety instructor certification (one of the core requirements), they must provide documentation along with the application, so they can get credit for it toward the AqP designation.

Each new Aquatic Professional designee will receive a certificate and lapel pin, and apparel may be available later. The AqP designation is good for three years, then needs to be renewed.

So far, 48 individuals have started the AqP application process, according to Juliene Hefter, executive director of AOAP.

The new designation was needed for several reasons, Hefter explained. For starters, it helps individuals be recognized as professionals in the aquatics field. “We see in so many areas that aquatic people are not looked at as professionals,” she said. “They don’t get enough credit for saving lives, drowning prevention [and the like].”

Additionally, Hefter said, the AqP accreditation helps facilities find and hire aquatics professionals who have gone through a standardized educational program and met certain experience and certification requirements in the aquatics field. With such a program in place, she said, the organization hopes to combat the common practice of assigning staffers such as maintenance or custodial personnel, who don’t have aquatic backgrounds, to run their pools. The program may help facility management pay more attention to candidates’ backgrounds, she noted.

The requirements for the AqP designation were decided by the five-person Professional Development Committee, chaired by Chris Whipple, who also is manager of lifeguards at University of Maryland. Committee members came from community and university rec departments, as well as the Red Cross. The committee is still providing input and will assess how the new program is working, and make changes if needed.

Whipple said that AqP applicants can fulfill the education requirements by attending AOAP conferences, and soon a new webinar series will provide additional educational opportunities. As of press time, three of the four webinar speakers had been confirmed, and Whipple said once the webinar has been reviewed and approved, it probably will be available in mid- to late January — and online on demand afterward 24/7. There probably will be a fee to cover expenses, but that hasn’t been finalized.

Industry response to the program has been positive. “People are saying, ‘It’s been a long time coming,’” Hefter reported. “Our main goal is to take this [aquatics] field to the next level.”

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