They have skills in leadership and management. They’re big on curriculum and standards. And they usually have the summers off.
It’s no wonder the aquatics industry wants to recruit more school teachers to work as managers — a desire that’s growing as employers try to staff pools amid a challenging labor market.
“We’re looking for somebody who has the maturity to deal with young adults and adults. And a teacher fits that perfectly,” said Jim Darke, president of American Pool Aquatic Solutions.
The management firm makes it easy for teachers to acquire the skills needed to run a pool. It flies new hires to its headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga. for three days of training. New hires graduate as CPOs. All travel, training and certifications are covered by the company.
The seasonal nature of the aquatics industry means that most teachers can work full-time during summer. And, frankly, most could use the work. This explains another advantage — they tend to come back year after year.
“As you know, teachers don’t get paid very well … and there aren’t that many opportunities to give them a great summer job the way aquatics does,” said Kelly Martinez, aquatics coordinator for the City of Phoenix.
Of that city’s 29 pool managers, 15 are teachers. Eight have been managing the city’s pools every summer for more than 20 years. Many also train lifeguards and swim instructors, roles for which they’re especially well-suited, given their education backgrounds.
But there’s a trick to hiring these more seasoned professionals. As the City of Phoenix discovered, most teachers aren’t willing to start as lifeguards and work their way up. The prospect of training alongside 15- and 16-year-olds is, for many, a deal-breaker.
It was for Kristin Merkel. She’s a school counselor who worked summers as a cashier at a swimming pool in Phoenix. She had years of lifeguarding experience, but her certifications lapsed while she pursued a master’s degree. When management approached her about taking on more responsibility, she initially declined.
“They realized this is somebody who would easily be a pool manager,” Merkel said. “They tried to get me to lifeguard, but I was really kind of opposed to it.”
That’s when the city created an avenue through which teachers can learn the ropes while bypassing entry-level status. Through the assistant manager-in-training program, teachers have their own curriculum and lifeguard certification class. Because they work so closely with management, junior staffers view them as superiors.
Upon completion of the course, the newly trained teachers are assigned their own pools to manage.
“I renewed all of my certifications through a management level,” said Merkel, who oversees two pools during the summer. “It was not as intimidating, because I was with other people my age.”
There’s another advantage of hiring teachers: They recruit lifeguards from their own classrooms. When you’re a city trying to fill 500 part-time pool jobs each season, every little bit helps.
This, too, makes teachers uniquely qualified.
“Teachers’ jobs are to mold and teach kids how to become adults,” said Becky Hulett, aquatics supervisor with the City of Phoenix. “This is something outside the classroom where they can teach them so many things: leadership, lifesaving skills and team building.”
She would know. Both she and her colleague, Martinez, used to be teachers.