Lifeguards in demand
By ANDREW MCGINNa.firstname.lastname@example.org
Dennis Hammen can be forgiven for being late to an interview at the Jefferson Swimming Pool.
He’s been looking for lifeguards everywhere he can — and as he was leaving the rec center for the pool last Friday, a potential recruit was on the way in.
Hammen, director of Jefferson Parks and Recreation, turned around, knowing it was worth the try to get yet another application in the hands of a could-be/would-be summer lifeguard.
As it stands, the municipal pool has so few lifeguards that the pool won’t be open regular hours.
“We’re still going to be pushing our staff thin,” Hammen said.
Training was held over the holiday weekend for the 10 lifeguard applicants — half of what the pool needs for regular operation.
With the pool opening for the season on Friday, evening hours are the first to go: the pool will be open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., instead of the usual 8 p.m., until more lifeguards can be found and trained. It’s also possible the pool will be closed on certain days.
“We will train throughout the year if we need to,” Hammen said.
Hammen and new pool manager Samantha Pedersen-Schmidt can only speculate as to why they’ve been hit with a shortage of lifeguards, a job usually filled by teens and college students home on summer break.
They attended a recent job fair at Greene County High School, have advertised both on Facebook and in the newspaper, and have posters around the community — all with little luck.
“I don’t know if it’s the aftereffects of COVID?” Pedersen-Schmidt wondered. “Nobody really wants to work. Nobody wants a job.”
A Jefferson native, Pedersen-Schmidt was a lifeguard herself all throughout high school, and has managed the municipal pool in Grand Junction for the past five seasons. This will be her first season managing both pools.
“I’m trying not to stress out about it,” she said of the lifeguard shortage bearing down on her.
That first season in Grand Junction, she recalled, they made do with just four lifeguards. The pool there runs best with six to eight guards, she said.
Even with the pandemic raging, the Jefferson pool managed to open last summer with 19 lifeguards, according to Hammen, perhaps because more college students than usual were back home in need of work.
“There weren’t a lot of other jobs available,” he said.
But with the pandemic starting to recede — Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is now available to kids as young as 12 — it’s possible they suddenly have more options.
As a result, the starting rate for lifeguards has been upped, from $7.50 per hour last year to $8.50 per hour this year, with two raises during the season.
Lifeguards also receive first-aid skills and CPR/AED training.
“It’s a great job to teach kids responsibility,” Hammen said. “It’s a job most parents would want their kids to have because of the life skills they get. That’s something they can use their whole lives.”
The lifeguard shortage comes as employers everywhere search high and low for workers. In a recent analysis of the so-called “labor shortage,” the Washington Post said what’s happening might instead be a “great reassessment of work in America.”
The pandemic, Pedersen-Schmidt said, created new routines for families. But the reality is, the pool still needs to open.
“We need those kids back,” she said.