Supplement Feature - January 2022
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Calmer Waters

The 2022 Aquatic Trends Report

By Emily Tipping

Industry Challenges

Perhaps not surprising in light of this year's "Great Resignation," staffing is the top issue of concern for respondents to the Aquatic Trends survey. In fact, staffing was far more likely to be named a top concern than budgetary issues, which generally hold the top spot.

Nearly three-quarters (73.6%) of respondents said staffing issues were a top industry concern, up dramatically from 52.4% in 2020. More than half said that budgetary issues (55.8%, down from 58.9% in 2020) or equipment facility and maintenance (51%, up from 49.1%) were among the biggest challenges facing the industry. (See Figure 29.)

While the most dramatic increase was seen in the number of respondents who feel that staffing issues are one of the industry's biggest challenges, the percentage who named outreach to minorities and other underrepresented populations has been on the rise over the past several years. In 2021, 17.1% of respondents to the Aquatic Trends survey said that outreach to underrepresented populations was a top industry concern, up from 14.8% in 2020, and 11.6% in 2019. Respondents from parks were more likely than others to indicate that outreach of this kind was a top concern, at 21.7%. They were followed by Ys, where 17.5% feel outreach to minorities and underrepresented audiences is a top industry concern.

While the top three concerns named by all respondents were also the top concerns named by respondents from the various facility types, there was a great deal of variation. For example, Ys were by far the most likely to indicate that staffing is a top industry challenge, while camp respondents were much less likely to report that staffing was a top challenge.

For parks, 79.3% named staffing as their top challenge, up from 59% in 2020. This was followed by budgetary issues (61.8%) and equipment and facility maintenance (47.9%)

College respondents were the most likely to name budgetary issues a top concern, with nearly seven out of 10 (69.7%, down slightly from 70.1% in 2020) calling this a top issue for the industry. Another 62.1% of college respondents named staffing issues a top concern (up from 43.3%), and 43.9% said equipment and facility maintenance was a top concern (down from 55.7%).

School respondents were the most likely to name equipment and facility maintenance as a top concern. Nearly three-quarters (72.7%) of school respondents said that maintenance was a top industry issue, up from 53.3% in 2020. Another 59.1% named budgetary issues (up from 56.1%), while 54.5% said staffing is a top concern (up from 50%).

Nearly nine out of 10 (88.9%) Y respondents said staffing issues are a top concern for the aquatics industry, up from 51.5% in 2020. More than half (52.4%) of these respondents said equipment and facility maintenance was a top concern (up from 43.9%), while 42.9% said budgets were a top issue (down from 56.1%).

Interestingly, among camp respondents, staffing, budgetary issues and equipment and facility maintenance were all named a top industry concern by 53.8%.

For rec centers, nearly three-quarters (72.7%) said staffing is a top issue (up from 41%), while 63.6% named equipment and facility maintenance a top concern (up from 38.5%), and 54.5% said budgetary issues are a top concern (down from 61.5%).

Asked to enumerate the greatest challenge for their facilities over the past year, most respondents said, simply, "staffing," while many others said, "COVID," but many offered a broader description of how they had been challenged:

"Because of the lack of lifeguard classes for quite some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is seemingly a widespread lifeguard shortage. As a result, I have struggled with finding staff, shift coverage has been an issue, and many of the students who are still guarding do not feel the same passion they once did for their work."

"Deterioration of infrastructure. Many items are reaching the end of their life cycle, and budgetary restraints are making it difficult to repair and replace."

"Staffing and trying to forecast what the future will be. The demand for pool time balanced with keeping people safe and social distancing."

"Guests who do not want to comply with new safety regulations related to COVID-19."

"Vendors not having product because there is a shortage of chlorine, which sometimes forces us to close the pool temporarily."

"We have less than half the staff we need to operate fully. The capacity restrictions we implemented at our seasonal facility weren't COVID precautions required by public health, they were safety-related due to lack of staff."

"Since COVID hit, our city leaders were uneasy about how it would affect the city's bottom line, so we were told to save money anywhere and everywhere. We put off purchasing and replacing some big equipment to save money. Now we're having more big-ticket equipment breaking, which needs replacing, for example, pump motors, sand filters and lane lines."

"Certainly, the pandemic was a challenge. As soon as our state allowed programming, we reopened our swim lesson program—offering lessons with parents in the pool and instructors on the deck. In June of 2021, we reopened to a regular schedule of swim lessons. Staffing has now become the biggest challenge. We are unable to support a full program of lessons due to a shortage of swim instructors and lifeguards. We already offer our own training as staff are certified instructors, but it is still difficult to attract staff."

"Our indoor teaching pool was closed until the county ruled that swim lessons/drowning prevention was essential!" RM