The District of Houston’s leisure services director is looking forward to increasing pool hours at the leisure center this spring once a lifeguard training program fully wraps up after spring break.
A shortage of lifeguards over the past several years has meant reduced operating hours, says Cassie Henrickson.
“Granted that all individuals are successful in their training, we will be fully staffed for the first time since the pandemic,” she said.
A lifeguard shortage is not unique to Houston with leisure facilities across the country generally reporting on difficulties in keeping their operations fully staffed.
One of the reasons given is that there are fewer younger people compared to before, a factor that reduces the number of potential recruits.
Added to the complication is that younger people are in school during the day, something that can add to the challenge of staffing.
Houston, as with other municipalities, has responded by financing training programs in return for a commitment to work.
“Our third round of the [training] program is currently underway,” said Henrickson. “They began in November and will complete their training throughout the spring of this year.”
The scheduled course completion is set for the spring break period after which graduates will be qualified to work.
Of the seven in the course, three will be able to work during the daytime, a factor that will then enable more open pool times, said Henrickson.
“With an increase in daytime hours, we hope to attract more adults to the training program in the future, but the nature of the work does typically attract younger adults,” she added.
From Sept. 2022 to the end of June 2023, staff shortages reduced pool operating times to 34.5 hours a week. The onset of summer increased pool opening to 56 hours a week but opening times dropped to 47.5 hours a week as of last fall when some lifeguards returned to school.
The pool is now open 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends.
Henrickson expects that schedule to hold until after spring break at the end of March.
Once the lifeguard program is finished, a swim instructor course will follow in late spring.
There are two levels of hourly pay for lifeguards — $20.30 an hour for people not yet fully certified but who can work at the facility while getting full lifeguard and swim instructor certification and $24.50 an hour for those who are fully certified.
“Our typical positions include permanent part time lifeguards that include benefits and guarantee a minimum of 22 hours per week,” said Henrickson.
There are also casual positions offering more work time flexibility. They provide an eight per cent addition to pay in lieu of benefits.