Lack of lifeguards, instructors may impact fall swim lessons in Kitchener, Cambridge and Guelph

People hoping to sign up for swim lessons this fall may have difficulty doing so in some local communities.

Guelph, Ont., said in a post on social media that due to a lack of lifeguards, the recreation department will need to reduce the number of swim classes, private lessons, drop-in programs and pool rentals it offers in the coming months.

Normally, the city would be entering the fall swim season with more than 100 staff members. As of this week, it had just over half of that, the city’s supervisor of aquatics, Breann Robb, said.

She said the number of aquatic programs the city’s able to run this fall is about 60 percent of what it was in 2019.

“Whenever we can, we open up wait lists. We always look at the programs that have the highest need and try to accommodate there,” Robb said.

“Also, we’re closed for our drop-in programs, but as we hire on staff, we’re hopeful that we can add additional days back into our programming.”

Lack of certification during pandemic

Guelph is not alone in having trouble hiring for its aquatic programs — Calgary reported a shortage in 2021. This summer, Prince Edward Island closed beaches because of a lack of lifeguards, Toronto has hiked pay to attract more workers, and in Thunder Bay, the city ​​had to significantly adjust pool hours.

During the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult for people to take swimming lessons and get certified, which has resulted in a lack of lifeguards and swim instructors. This has led to some municipalities cutting back the number of swim lessons or drop-in programs they plan to offer this fall.

Paula Dawson, Cambridge’s supervisor of aquatics, leisure and youth, said the city is feeling the shortage of trained staff.

“What we’re seeing is a little bit of program change,” Dawson said. “We’re not going to run certain programs. We’re not in a terrible situation, but we would like more staff, definitely.”

Local cities say drop-in programs, such as lane swims and free public swims, may need to be cut this fall due to a lack of lifeguards needed to be on deck when people are in the water. (Shutterstock / sonsam)

Patrick King, manager of aquatics in Kitchener, said the city often hires younger workers for these types of jobs, but now it is branching out and hopes to connect with work-from-home parents or retirees who may want part-time hours during the day and who have lifeguarding skills.

“Daytime hours is where we’re struggling in Kitchener,” he said.

Waterloo, Woolwich plan full slate of programs

Waterloo, meanwhile, said it plans to offer a full slate of swimming lessons when fall recreation enrollment opens on Wednesday.

Jillian Fleming, director of recreation services for the city, said Waterloo is currently hiring for the fall.

“If staff shortages do occur, we’re going to make every attempt to ensure we run as many of our aquatic programs as possible,” she said.

If the city has to cut any programs, Fleming said it would reduce drop-in programs first, then classes with low enrollment.

In Woolwich, manager of recreation Jennifer Hordnl said the township is in good shape for this fall, but it also helps that she only needs to staff one pool.

“We, over the last year and a half, really did notice we lost a lot of staff,” Hordnl said.

“But I would give our aquatic co-ordinator kudos for really putting through a lot of leadership courses. In the last 12 months we’ve run a lot of bronze medallions, bronze crosses … instructor schools. So we are getting a lot of staff that are trained, but they’re young.”

She said Woolwich has also increased how much lifeguards and swim instructors get paid to make the job more appealing. The township also hopes to entice more adults to think of working in aquatics.

“If we could get people who have young children, we can build that flexibility where they can drop their kids off at school, come and work at the pool and then be done in time to pick them up,” Hordnl said. “We’re really trying to be creative in how we are staffing during the day.”

Swim lessons ‘so important’

The lack of swim lessons in some municipalities is worrying to Barbara Byers, the senior research officer with the Lifesaving Society.

Her message to people is to keep trying if they don’t get their first choice for swim lessons.

Barbara Byers with the Lifesaving Society says she hopes parents keep trying to get their children into swimming lessons this fall and winter, even if they face some obstacles, because swimming is an important skill to learn. (Shannon Martin/CBC Toronto)

“Maybe look at a different location than you normally have. Maybe there is a different pool or a different community center,” she said.

“It’s so important that children are taught swimming … and younger is better. When you get them into lessons when they’re young, then there’s not the trepidation and fear and they like it. It’s fun. They get in, they get better and better.”

Lynne Briggs, manager of recreation services for Guelph, said she also wants people to know, this isn’t a choice being made by the city.

“We do apologize for what we know is going to be a long wait list due to the restrictions that we’ve had to impose because we have no lifeguards-slash-instructors,” she said.

“We don’t like it either. We’re here to serve the public and in this case, with the aquatic services, we can’t. It’s very frustrating.”

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