Lifeguard shortage risks cutting Ottawa pool hours

Faced with a shortage of new lifeguards and a high turnover rate of existing ones, the City of Ottawa is regularly at risk of cutting its swimming pool hours and cancelling some its aquatic programs.

Patrick Fournier, the supervisor of recreational programs at the St-Laurent Complex, said between September 2018 and May 2019 Ottawa hired 266 new lifeguards out of the city’s 1,350 lifeguard positions; a turnover of almost 20 per cent in eight months.

He said two factors appear to be at play: the extensive training required for what’s a part-time job for many, combined with the challenge of retaining hirees.

“We do have a lot of our staff that either move out of town or get full time jobs,” said Fournier.

“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the cause is, but it’s definitely a trend we’ve been seeing in the past three to four years.”

The problem is not isolated to Ottawa.

“We have heard from other municipalities that they’ve had to close down pools or cancel programs because of a lack of lifeguards,” said Fournier.

“Luckily we’re not there yet, but we seem to always be very close to that point. We’re coming down to the wire all the time.”

Training incentives in the works

New lifeguards in Ottawa are paid minimum wage.

Fournier points to the flexible hours and the chance to work in the community as incentives for many and said the city is making an effort to ease the burden of training.

“We’re trying to create an accelerated program for kids who have a strong swimming background so they can get through the program a little bit faster,” said Fournier.

Another possibility he said might be worth offering is the city’s Hand in Hand program, which gives financial help for people in low-income situations who want to register for a city program.

“If they want to, they could use it toward their lifeguarding courses,” said Fournier.

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