LEWISVILLE, Texas — If you’re eager to beat the summer heat with a dip in the pool, be warned, you may face some delays in a lot of Texas communities due to a shortage of lifeguards.
Stacie Anaya, parks and recreation director for the City of Lewisville, looks forward to opening its Sun Valley Aquatic Center for the summer every Memorial Day weekend. However, 2021’s season started out with a bit of a disappointment for pool-goers as Anaya and the city announced a delay to the park’s opening for at least 2 weeks.
“We’re struggling right now to find lifeguards to help us staff this facility,” said Anaya as she walked the facility Friday.
That’s obviously an essential position at the aquatic center that Anaya said they really can’t afford to go short-staffed with, the safety of their swimmers being a top priority at the pool.
Plus, this isn’t exactly a case of them having a few empty spots on the lifeguard schedule. Anaya said it’s significantly more difficult than that.
“We have 2 or 3 [lifeguards] on board and we need about 30 to get through the summer,” she said.
Anaya said, on most summers, that number would be closer to 50 guards for the summer in order to open the city’s second, smaller water park in town, but that park will not be opening at all for 2021. Still, she’s got to find dozens of lifeguards in a short time just to staff Sun Valley.
Unfortunately, she’s not the only aquatics supervisor in that boat right now.
“It’s never been this bad,” said Jennifer Pewitt, associate vice president of Aquatics for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas.
Pewitt said, in 16 years working in her position, finding lifeguards has rarely been an issue. It tends to be a fairly sought after summer job, especially for students looking to make some extra cash.
In 2021 though, Pewitt said she, too, is staring down dozens of openings across the Dallas metro area that she needs to fill fast.
“We could easily hire 30-50 more lifeguards at our locations,” said Pewitt.
Like many job fields right now, especially part time ones, lifeguarding is running into post-pandemic issues filling vacancies. Pewitt and Anaya said it’s tough to point to one specific reason for the struggle with everything from hesitancy to being around crowds to a rise in summer internships as likely factors.
However, a likely roadblock this summer is a lack of lifeguard certifications required to do the job.
Anaya said the YMCA, which does a lot of lifeguard certifying throughout the aquatics industry, really did few to no certification courses throughout the pandemic. Though some of its pools were open last summer, many community pools stayed closed or on severely limited offerings throughout 2020.
So, many long-time and existing lifeguards simply moved on to other jobs while there was little need for them last year. And those who didn’t saw their 2 year certifications lapse during that time, leaving them in need of training and testing before they are able to work again.
Now, pools throughout Texas and throughout the country are scrambling to find willing candidates and get them certified for the job before those stir-crazy, post pandemic crowds show up at the gates.
Many communities and organizations are trying to sweeten the job up to attract more candidates as quickly as possible. Anaya said the City of Lewisville has raised its lifeguard pay from $10 per hour to $13 per hour and are now offering on-the-clock training and certification for candidates who are willing to work, but who may not be current on their certification.
Pewitt said the Dallas Metro YMCA has made its certification courses free for 2021 and are encouraging anyone who’s interested to come give it a shot. She says even if you need a little more work before taking a seat in the lifeguard’s chair, they’ll do what it takes to get you there right now.
“If you can’t pass the competency swim, we’ll give you a membership to any one of our Ys until you can complete that competency swim,” said Pewitt.
At this point, Pewitt said the Y is trying to avoid having to condense swim hours due to staffing, if at all possible.
Anaya said she’s hopeful they’ll have enough guards to make a mid-June opening, especially with its full offering of open hours for swimmers. However, she again emphasized that they cannot and will not do it without guards watching out for swimmers’ safety. It’s just not an option.
“They’re the keystone component to opening up the facility. You need people out here that are watching to make sure that everyone who comes to the facility is safe,” she said.