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Pools battling to stay open amidst staff shortages, lifeguard society says

Many individuals wanting to become lifeguards have not been able to complete required pre-requisite courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Summer is in full swing and cities across the country are fighting to keep pools open as they face staff shortages.

Public pools and beaches are opening as warm weather rolls in, but there aren’t enough lifeguards to watch over them.

Barbra Byers, a senior research officer for the Lifesaving Society, says many municipalities are desperate for staff.

“Some of the pools I’ve heard about are open shorter hours (or) not every day. Some pools just aren’t opening at all,” she says.

Byers believes it is particularly hard for lower-income communities, where a lot of children spend plenty of time at pools in the summer.

“That’s really devastating for the kids in those communities because the pool is their summer for many kids,” she says.

“When I was a lifeguard back in the day, you see those same kids who come every day, and you realize that you’re a big part of their summer.”

Last month, municipalities across Canada were grappling with lifeguard shortages due to the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials and industry groups said as city pools and beaches were poised to open for the season.

Byers says she is aware of municipalities offering incentives to certify more lifeguards, such as paying for courses, but it’s an uphill challenge.

Many individuals wanting to become lifeguards have not been able to complete required pre-requisite courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s still the challenge to get enough people to take the courses or get the recertification, but some municipalities are also offering more money,” she explains.

And although she says there is no quick fix, districts offering higher wages could re-attract lifeguards who have moved on to different careers.

“Years ago, the difference between being a lifeguard or swim instructor versus working in retail was significant, like, twice as much, three times as much (to be) a lifeguard compared to working in retail. And now it might be a couple bucks an hour. That’s a big difference.”

“They’re trying to be as creative as they can and constantly advertising to get candidates, but it’s going to take a while and it’s there’s a lot of competition,” Byers says.

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