Triad cities struggle to hire lifeguards, may have to limit pool access for the summer

Coronavirus

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Summer is just around the corner, and for a lot of families that means a lot of time at the pool.

Before the pool gates can open, the lifeguards need to be trained and ready to go. This year there are more challenges to get the all the workers needed.

“It’s been a little bit of a struggle all to get any aquatic staff this season. We’ve already been in a lifeguard shortage for a couple of years but now at a pandemic. and it’s just been a little hard to get some lifeguards on staff this year,” said Kristen Herndon, the facilities and aquatics coordinator for Greensboro Parks and Recreation.

Part of the problem comes from how city staff recruit for the positions.

“Normally we’re able to go into the Guilford County high schools and some of the community colleges as well as the universities and kind of gather some lifeguards and seasonal employment. Unfortunately, this year, with COVID, we have not been able to do any in-person recruiting,” Herndon said.

In 2019, Herndon said the city had about 30 lifeguards. As of April, they had less than 20. The City of Winston Salem also needs to hire 80 to 100 lifeguard positions. 

Both cities are looking at ways of making the job more appealing to applicants. A big part of that is simplifying the certification process. Lifeguards need American Red Cross training. It can cost up to $275. 

“The training can be expensive but if you apply and you make it through the application process, we will train you, and also that training is free to those who come on board, and it will also pay you while we train you. Another huge marketing piece for this year is that the City of Greensboro, their minimum wage is $15 an hour, so no matter what our lifeguards start out at $15 an hour,” Herndon said.

The City of Winston Salem is offering a scholarship program to pay for the training if the applicant commits to work for the 2021 swim season.

“This is our second summer offering the scholarship opportunity but we were able to go into schools last year and let people to know about it. So, I’ve been hard getting the word about it because weren’t able to go to schools this year,” Winston-Salem Aquatics Supervisor Heather Candelora said.

Herndon said, to help fill in some of those empty spots, the City of Greensboro has also looked at recruiting a different crop of candidates.

“Yeah, we hope to get Guilford County Schools teachers or instructors from local universities and colleges, because they’ll keep coming back year after year,” Herndon said.

She said they are also targeting baby boomers who might have worked as a lifeguard when they were a teenager. She says this could also help with recruiting in the future, because the same people will hopefully come back year after year.

“Anyone can be a lifeguard. It’s a really fun atmosphere. We just want to get anyone who enjoys being outside, enjoys being around the water, has pretty strong swimming capability or wants to learn and become a better swimmer. We want them back and a part of our team for the summer,” she said.

The shortage of lifeguard hires could impact the ability to open all of the facilities in the city.

“Our staffing capability kind of ties our hands as far as how long and what facilities can be open. So, the more lifeguards, the more pools that can be open for the summer and for a longer period of time. And unfortunately, if there’s less staff, then we’re going to have to condense those hours,” Herndon said.

And for those teenagers who are looking at this for a potential first job or summer job, these supervisors say this job can open a lot of possibilities. 

“Being a lifeguard is one of the best summer jobs. Besides the fact that you get the hang out around the pool, it also gives you a sense of responsibility. You are responsible for the people coming to the pool, you learn a lot of responsibility watching the children, watching the swimmers. You learn how to take care of people. You are certified in first aid and CPR so you learn a lot of life-saving skills which is to me the best part of it,” Candelora said.

You can look for lifeguard openings for the City of Winston Salem here on the city’s online jobs portal.

Or check out offerings from the City of Greensboro.

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