Photo by Eric Nurse

Recruitment is one of the big topics that everyone is talking about. Where are the lifeguards? Where are the swim instructors? Where are the seasonal staff to work the front desk?

As the world trudges toward a post-COVID-19 life, how do we as an industry move forward?

Let’s lay out some hard facts: The U.S birth rate has either been stagnant or in decline for the last two decades. Within those decades, the costs of housing and childcare have increased, which are two factors that contribute to some families deciding not to have children. This leaves a smaller group of young, entry-level professionals (15-22 years old) who can participate in the temporary and seasonal workforce.

What can an agency do? Let’s look at your agency’s mission statement, framing of the job, and potential candidates.


Every agency should have a mission statement, which should be easily accessible to any member of the public interested in finding out who you are and what work your agency does. The mission statement helps people know your agency’s core values and allows them to compare your values with theirs. Seeing similarities in core values could be enough to help someone decide to pursue an employment opportunity with your agency. Remember: People want to be aligned and part of an organization that shares a similar mission and values. Being part of something bigger than themselves is a powerful driver that your agency can provide: “Join us and be part of something bigger.”

What is the “something bigger?” It’s imperative that your agency consult its mission statement and clarify how each lifeguard and swim instructor’s actions contribute to the mission. “I help provide a safe place for families to come to for recreational swimming,” or, “I teach people how to swim so they can feel confident and water safe.”


With a strong mission statement, your agency needs to frame the mission statement — appealing to both the applicant and their parents.

For the applicant, recruitment materials should visually tell a story of what the job entails: lifeguarding, water safety education, swim lessons, teamwork, camaraderie, fun and great life experiences. This visual story is on the recruitment posters, recruitment business cards, social media postings and video clips. Sell the idea that the job is amazing, and they shouldn’t miss out.

For the applicant’s parents, you’re selling the idea that, as an organization with such a strong commitment to serving the community (where your mission statement comes into play), you’re there to help in the development of their child, specifically in the transition for child to young adult. The skill sets that your agency will help galvanize within these potential employees include:

• Responsibility (coming to work on time, bringing a lunch, and a clean uniform)

• Accountability (calling when running late to a shift, showing up to work)

• Integrity (following through with what they say, communicating with the public)

• Honesty (communicating with the public, peers and leadership)

• Teamwork (keeping the swim area safe, responding to emergencies, and providing effective patient care)

• Independence (making their own lunch, washing their own clothes, taking care of their issued equipment, and filling out their own time card)

These are skills that every parent is struggling to teach their child. Emphasize that you want to be their partner when it comes to developing young professionals.

One-on-one opportunities with parents are critical in selling the job. Parents want to meet the department’s leadership. You want to communicate that you’re on the parents’ side and that you are all in this together when it comes to raising their young professional. Remind the parent that we’re spending the public’s money on developing their child to be an exceptional public servant. We also remind parents, that if they and their child are not up for the task and commitment, they shouldn’t apply.


Finding the best candidates requires having the best recruiters and a multi-stage recruitment process.

Who are the best recruiters? You’ll need to look within your current workforce. Every agency has mavens, experts who know everything about what’s going on with every lifeguard and the swim instructor who works for you. They know who is going to college and where, which high school has a decent swim team or water polo team. They know who has a sibling who will be of work age for next season. They know everybody’s personal business. Your mavens are charismatic, outgoing and can talk to anyone within the workforce. As a leader, you need to identify the mavens and utilize them for identifying your prospective candidates. Have them reach out to seasonal staff and find out who is interested in working next season.

Your mavens will be especially crucial in the first candidate search, which should include friends and siblings of staff. In my agency, over 50% of new candidates come from this first search, solely due to word of mouth from the current staff.

Your second candidate search should focus on Junior Lifeguards and Counselor in Training programs. Prospective candidates from these programs already know what it takes to be a lifeguard and swim instructor. They’ve seen it firsthand.

Your third candidate search should target high schools — public, private and chartered. When recruiting at high schools, keep in mind we aren’t prioritizing the recruitment of top swimmers or water polo players. These athletes train and compete all year round and are not available for full-time or consistent work. We look for the good swimmers, the good water polo players, the swimmers and water polo players who are varsity, junior varsity or freshman/sophomore level.

Your fourth candidate search should take place in community colleges that have club teams or areas of study in swim team, water polo, fire science, EMT and criminal justice.

Your fifth candidate search should be in regional occupation programs. These programs provide practical alternative experience to high school students and students pursuing their GED. Recruit from career pathways in childcare, health science, automotive, public service and hospitality.

In the last ten years, recruitment has become a year-round assignment. If you’re not out in the field actively recruiting and advocating your mission statement to anyone who will listen, then you should be thinking about how to get better accessibility to potential applicants. Should you partner with this community-based organization or present at that event? Will it expand my access to a larger workforce pool?

Reminder: If people aren’t telling you they’re tired of hearing your story and why it’s important to work for you, then you haven’t said it enough.