There is no Lifeguard Shortage

By:  Dewey Case

I’m going to make a controversial statement.

There is no lifeguard shortage.
…………………………………………………..
(sounds of pitchforks and torches being assembled)

We have a very real issue in the recruitment of lifeguards. But to call it a shortage is really a misnomer. What we have is actually a crossroads where many facilities aren’t adapting to a (not so new) reality. For a very long time, lifeguarding was seen as the perfect high school and college job. Many facilities still treat it like so. But the industry has changed and, more importantly, the traditional labor market for lifeguards has changed.

On the industry side, we’re well beyond the days of the paraprofessional. With advances in care, in standards, and litigation – lifeguarding is a much more professional and stressful environment than it was 40 years ago. That has definitely impacted how teens and young adults see the job.

But the biggest impact is how the “traditional” labor market has changed.

In 1990, a teenager or college student on summer break had limited options. Cut grass, work in fast food, babysit, or do hard manual labor. All the payrates were largely similar. There was little pressure to be career minded. Sports were played for fun and not for scholarships. Select sports during summer were less common. Compared to today, there was much less financial pressure and even then it was largely relegated to gas, beer, and concert money.

Fast forward to today. The same age group now has significant pressure to start down the career road much sooner. Now, that 16 year old is looking at how they can get a head start in their career and build their college application. That same 16 year old is spending their summers in select sports to try to get “a leg up” on those ever-lucrative-but-hard-to-get athletic scholarships. That 17 year old is now having to pay not only for gas, but also the car note….their cell phone…car insurance…and in some cases actually contributing to the financial survival of the household. Moving into college age, summer internships, career based jobs, and having to earn as much as possible during summers is driving their employment decisions.

But our industry still acts, and pays, like it’s the 1990’s.

Pay is another factor. It’s been reported time and time again that pay matters. Facilities that pay well have no shortages. Those that pay “not so great” often have challenges.

Culture is also a key factor. Today’s employees are much more informed than their 1990’s counterparts and are looking for healthy working environments where their voice matters.

So we don’t have a lifeguard shortage. We have a pay issue, a culture issue, and a cultural shift of epic proportions.

So knowing is half the battle. Now the industry has to apply solutions. We can’t run our pools like it’s 1994 any longer.

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