Feature Article - August 2022
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Team Up!

Navigating Staffing Challenges

By Dave Ramont


Lifeguards & Aquatics

As you've gathered, finding lifeguards has been a huge challenge, and Executive Director and CEO of the Association of Aquatic Professionals (AOAP) Juliene Hefter reported that facilities have gotten creative with their hiring strategies. "We're seeing full-blown marketing campaigns that are trying to attract any individual with strong swimming abilities and any age group from 15 to senior citizens." Promotions include free lifeguard training for individuals that are able to pass initial skills tests and give a commitment to work for the organization for a minimum length of time, and offering apprenticeship training to younger individuals so when they turn 15 they're able to pass the guard course and immediately start working.

Other promotions/strategies Hefter mentioned include: paid training for those taking the lifeguarding and swim instructor courses; sign-on bonuses and higher hourly wages; bonuses at season's end, based on a minimum number of hours worked during the season and working through a specific date; hiring not only high school and college students, but also adults, including those that are teachers, firefighters, paramedics and senior citizens; providing as much flexibility on schedules as possible; working with local school districts to provide PE credits for those lifeguards in high school; and employees getting paid daily for their hours instead of every two weeks.

Hefter said that while all aquatic staff have been affected, any positions requiring additional certifications and fees-including learn-to-swim instructors-have been most impacted. The AOAP works to provide information to members that they're able to take to their boards and commissions to show what other communities are doing to get the appropriate level of staffing and retain them. "We do this by being part of larger groups such as the Aquatics Coalition, which is comprised of more than 20 water safety and competitive water sports organizations from learn-to-swim-programs and health and rehabilitation groups to competitive aquatic organizations."

Sabeena Hickman, president and CEO of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA), said that in addition to lifeguards, pool facilities are having a tough time finding workers to assist in operations. "In general, the labor shortage is a hurdle for employers as we all continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic, an aging workforce, shifting priorities among students and changes to the traditional work environment."

But Hickman said they're excited about sharing the many strengths and benefits of working in the aquatics industry. "From job security and robust training programs to excellent benefits and career advancement tracks, PHTA is building its own workforce development program to help our members attract and hire qualified job candidates, as well as provide resources that will help in the recruitment, training and retention process. We're looking forward to officially launching this program to our members in late 2022."

Sports Officials

Another big staffing challenge involves the recruitment and retention of sports officials, with a recent survey of state high school associations indicating that approximately 50,000 individuals have discontinued serving as high school officials since the 2018-2019 season, the last one unaffected by the pandemic. To address the problem and promote collaboration, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) held the first-ever NFHS Officials Consortium in Indianapolis this past April.

Dana Pappas, director of officiating services at NFHS, said the consortium was very successful, with more than 40 sports organizations in attendance, including the NBA, NFL, NCAA and various state associations and governing bodies for Olympic sports. "We worked together to examine barriers, both internal and external, to officiating, as well as to devise solutions in terms of recruitment and retention of officials, as well as the behavior of spectators."

According to Pappas, the shortage is affecting all levels of officiating. "The pool from which we're drawing is the same people; professional draws from college, college from high school, high school from youth. If one part of that pool is shallow we all suffer."

Some of the many recruitment solutions discussed included increasing pay, stipends and incentives; targeted recruitment for women and minorities and outreach to military; make training available through high school and college curriculums; better training/education of officials and improved relationships with coaches and administrative entities; and sharing resources.

"We're also launching a behavioral campaign to address the issue of sportsmanship and treatment of officials. We're sending a toolkit to state associations and any other entity wanting to be part of the solution, with ideas to address officiating shortages."

What's to Come

Shelton remains optimistic about the future, and said that facility operators in the attractions industry are reporting increases in staffing levels, no longer at the low levels of 2020 and 2021. "Our operators continue to utilize creative ways to incentivize their workforce to pick up additional shifts or extend hours and now some are able to increase their operating hours and operate the full offerings at their facilities."

Back in Ohio, Hutcheson said they all want to be educated and assist wherever they can: "Teamwork!" RM