by Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on Tuesday March 21 2023
A growing shortage of lifeguards in the region has resulted in the reduction of operating hours at the three indoor swimming pools the RDCK operates.
What those reduced hours will be is expected to be shared daily on each facility’s recorded phone greeting, on facility signs, social media and on the regional district’s website. People are advised to double-check the schedule since information may change quickly.
Current lifeguard staff have been leaving to pursue other career paths and the pools — including Nelson, Castlegar and Creston — do not have enough trained and experienced people to operate the pools at full capacity right now, said Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) general manager of Community Services, Joe Chirico.
“We have been playing catch-up in our succession of experienced staff, due to the interruption in training and development for future lifeguards and swim instructors,” he said in a press release. “Our goal is to get back to pre-pandemic service delivery, and without more staff, including aquatics leadership at all our pools, the hours will continue to be limited and will continue to fluctuate.”
In July 2022 Chirico said the lifeguard shortage was the reason for the closure of the outdoor Gyro Park Pool in Nelson, but he stated at the time that the real problem was going to surface later on. In the fall aquatic centres lose lifeguards that are returning to school, Chirico said.
“Come fall we may see our aquatic hours at the NDCC drop because of the fact that we have lost that pool of lifeguards,” he predicted.
The lifeguard shortage also has its origins in the pandemic, when pools across the RDCK were shut down and training and certification programs were put on hold.
Although the RDCK had been working in all of its aquatic centres to increase the lifeguarding pool, Chirico said, there is a lack of human resources almost across all sectors. He said the primary issue is people aging out of the workforce, and more people retiring than people entering into the workforce.
“We can’t forget that where we are really short is in experienced guards, people choosing to make it a little bit more of a career than just the student kind of a job,” Chirico said.
With the B.C. minimum wage rising to $15.65 per hour, it now meets what the regional district pays a lifeguard, he explained, closing what used to be a $4-$5 per hour divide.
Right now the regional district is running lifeguard courses whether they financially break even or not, Chirico said, and treating them as training programs.
Anybody interested in pursuing lifeguard or swim instructor certification can contact any RDCK facility or visit rdck.ca/recreation for information about training opportunities and potential support at all RDCK facilities.
All RDCK aquatics and recreation job opportunities are posted at www.rdck.ca/jobs.