Every summer, public pools face the same problem: staff shortages could oblige them to close. The continuing lack of swimming instructors and lifeguards is worsening due in part to the Covid crisis and the forced suspension of training programs. Public authorities are doing everything they can to attract candidates from all walks of life to these professions which are essential for public pool operations.
A chronic global and persistent shortage of swimming instructors and lifeguards
But this is nothing new! The problem has existed for over a good century (1). Despite a renewed interest in the Nineties thanks to the Baywatch TV series, the continuous threat of staff shortages threatens both public and private swimming pools. It is one of the biggest stumbling blocks when attempting to teach people to swim.
In the Netherlands, children have to wait longer and longer for swimming lessons because of staff shortages. This situation is taken very seriously by the Ministry for Health which has promised to increase availabilities (2). In England, 12,000 jobs are vacant, i.e. 15% of total staff, depriving potentially over 660,000 children of swimming lessons (3). As for the United States, it is estimated that half of all public swimming pools are threatened by partial or total closure (4).
In France as elsewhere, the difficulties in recruiting swimming instructors and lifeguards complicate public pool management, lead to a reduction in opening hours and even to closure. To continue to provide swimming lessons and keeping pools safe for the public, sector professionals are adopting new methods…
Action plans to recruit more swimming instructors
1. To pay higher salaries
The argument heard most often is that wages are too low to attract young people to do this job. This is why many public authorities have taken immediate action like $500 bonuses in Houston, +9 % pay rises in New York to name but a few. In the crisis there is no doubt that this is one of the most promising tracks – but it takes time before new recruits finish their training and seek jobs and this is a difficult investment as pool overheads have shot up in the energy crisis.
2. To make training free
In France, training swimming instructors and lifeguards costs between €4,000 and €9,000. Which most candidates can’t afford especially as qualification has to be revalidated regularly! The Paris Region (Ile-de-France), which needs to recruit 450 additional swimming instructors, has decided to pay 100% of training costs as of 2023!
3. To lower the legal age for becoming an instructor and lifeguard
And if more young people were allowed to become instructors and lifeguards? This is what Canada, and more precisely Ontario, has done. Since June 2023, kids over 15 can follow a career-orienting training program. A decision which creates some breathing space for swimming pool management!
4. To provide benefits in kind
When the summer season starts and the war of job offers from private and public swimming pools is at its height, the way to win is to provide accommodation or other advantages in kind. Some, like the municipal pool in Caluire-et-Cuire, set out to attract candidates with their spectacular view on Lyon City!
In addition to these action plans, the longest lasting consists in making this profession attractive through communications targeting young people. A dedicated campaign will be launched by the French Ministry for Sports as the 2024 Olympic Games in France approach. This will take time but the sector hopes it will pay off in the long run.
(1) The Atlantic: How Lifeguards Lost Their Luster
(2) Zwembadbranche: Minister maakt werk van wachtlijsten zwemles en voert Sportwet in: is dit goed nieuws voor de zwembranche?
(3) Swim England: Deeper dive into the impact of the swimming teacher shortage across England
(4) Pool Magazine: Lifeguard Shortage May Cause Half of Public Pools To Close Early
(5) HuffPost: Pourquoi la profession de maître-nageur, en pénurie, perd un peu plus de son attrait chaque année
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