While many industries grapple with labor shortages in the current climate, the shortage of lifeguards is nothing new for recreation professionals. College recreation is no exception, as many colleges across the country are struggling to hire lifeguards to tend to our swimming pools.
This shortage prevents campus recreation services from operating as before. The result is that many of our pool hours have been condensed, and in some cases pools even close for entire seasons, such as winter and summer holidays.
So what is causing this shortage on college campuses? There are a few ideas that always crop up in every conversation surrounding this topic. For starters, certification is expensive, students are too busy with academics and other pursuits to take jobs on campus, and often the work doesn’t pay enough.
ADDITIONAL CREDIT: Heather Hartmann details here more tips and advice to combat the shortage of lifeguards.
Recreation professionals have been discussing these issues for the better part of a decade and have found ways to combat them. For example, most aquatic services offer to top up the cost of certification in exchange for hours worked.
As such, supplementing the cost of certification is something that becomes more expected rather than an attractive incentive. Additionally, many pools offer pay rates above minimum wage. Lifeguards are often among the highest paid student staff within a campus recreation department.
But despite multiple recruitment incentives being in place, the issue of lifeguard staffing has recently become an even bigger challenge. The coronavirus and the tight job market now affecting so many industries have created new challenges for aquatic leaders when it comes to recruiting lifeguards. It’s time to take a closer look at the root causes of the rescuer’s disappearance.
Rescue is difficult
Being a lifeguard is more than hanging out in a bathing suit while getting paid to work on your tan and have fun with friends. The initial certification course can be quite challenging, but ongoing training and services require lifeguards to remain physically fit year-round.
As overweight and obesity among adults aged 18 to 24 continue to rise, I believe more students are looking for jobs that don’t require as much physical labor, especially since there are many non-strenuous part-time jobs to choose from.
Monitoring can be boring
Rescue was a dream job back when smartphones didn’t exist. However, cell phone use is now having a negative effect on the aquatics industry.
While it is already difficult to keep student staff away from their electronic devices in all areas of our recreation centers, it is much more serious in aquatic facilities. When student staff spend their shift staring at their phones at the front desk or in the gym, we consider it a customer service issue. But at the pool, it can be a matter of life and death.
Young adults today are so used to having instant access to their phones and various social networks that it can be difficult to recruit them into a job that prohibits them from constantly communicating or browsing social media.
The risk is too high
A summer job as a lifeguard was once a rite of passage for many teenagers. However, this line of thinking has changed because our society has become much more litigious over time. I have discovered in recent years that young adults no longer want the responsibility of protecting people’s lives at the pool.
In addition, more and more parents are reluctant to let their children – even college-aged children – bear the risk of being a lifeguard. It is believed that the difference in salary of a few dollars is not worth the additional level of responsibility that comes with the role of lifeguard
These reasons for the shortage of lifeguards can be distressing for aquatic managers because overcoming them will not be easy. Most of these are societal issues that go far beyond the borders of our campuses. However, acknowledging these recruitment issues is necessary to start thinking and having conversations about them.