Lifeguard shortage forces city to offer $90-K worth of free training
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TO ease a lifeguard shortage that’s already forced the City of Winnipeg to scale back swim programs and delay others, some new applicants will be given extensive free training to help them qualify for the job.
The municipal government will offer a six-course, 14-week certification program without charge to 60 successful applicants to become an “instructor guard,” a position for lifeguards who teach swimming lessons.
The courses would normally come with a combined price of about $1,500, charged to each participant. Instead, the tab will be covered through a Canada-Manitoba job grant, while the city will provide training facilities and cover operating costs.
“The circumstances of coming out of the pandemic… really hurt our ability to have a pool of candidates that were eligible and ready to go. So we were in a deficit, so to speak, in that regard. Training hadn’t been occurring, with the various public health orders, it’s been intermittent,” said Jenn Sarna, Winnipeg manager of recreation services.
“We needed to think a little creatively in putting something together that would really be an incentive for anyone who might have been thinking of becoming a lifeguard.”
The push to attract new staff comes after the lifeguard shortage was linked to the delayed reopening of the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex pool. Following repairs, that pool was originally expected to welcome back swimmers this month but is now set to reopen in April.
Sarna said additional aquatic courses have also been limited due to the lack of staff, though there isn’t a set number of offerings per term to compare to.
The city currently has 220 lifeguards, out of a full complement of 300.
Sarna stressed existing staff are taking on extra shifts, while multiple recruitment efforts are underway to keep as many programs in place as possible.
“It’s never our intention to cut anything. We offer as much as we can… and we’ll continue to do that.”
Successful applicants to the expedited lifeguard training program will be able to take six courses for free, including Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross, Standard First Aid and CPR C/AED, Swim for Life Instructor, National Lifeguard – Pool and Lifesaving Instructor.
Eligible applicants must be at least 16 by March 31, 2023, have a minimum Grade 10 education, have the ability to obtain a police check by Dec. 31, and pass a swim assessment.
Sarna said the need to complete so many courses has proven a barrier to attracting more lifeguards. “It’s a specialized position… It takes time and it takes money to become qualified to legally meet the criteria.”
Those selected to complete the free classes are not guaranteed a job once they’ve done so, and must also go through an interview process, though Sarna said the city intends to hire as many staff as possible. Participants will be asked to commit to work as a city lifeguard for at least one year, for a minimum of nine hours per week.
The application deadline is Dec. 5 and those who get hired should be fully trained by the end of March.
The option has enticed ample interest so far, with 301 applicants by Monday afternoon.
Coun. John Orlikow, chairman of the community services committee, said there is massive demand for “critical” aquatic services such as swimming lessons, which warrants the extra effort to attract staff.
“Just on a health basis and a safety basis, people need to know how to swim. We have a lot of waterways… We have a lot of newcomer community (members) coming who don’t have that background in swimming (and the programs are) very, very popular,” said Orlikow.
The head of the city’s largest union said the training incentive is a “step in the right direction,” but more should be done to support lifeguards and other civic staff.
“Any time there’s a shortage of workers in any area, that raises concern because you’re trying to get a lot more done with a lot less people,” said Gord Delbridge, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500.
Delbridge and Sarna said this is the first time they’re aware of the city offering free training to attract lifeguards.
Delbridge believes additional free training should be used to attract more municipal workers, such as mechanics and arena attendants, to ensure other city services aren’t compromised.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.