Lifeguard shortage threatens swimming classes

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Royal Life Saving ACT CEO Cherry Bailey. Photo: Danielle Nohra

A SHORTAGE of qualified lifeguards and swim instructors is slowing down the aquatic industry’s efforts to rebuild after the height of covid. 

Despite the rollback of covid restrictions in the ACT, many positions in the mostly casual workforce remain unfilled, says Royal Life Saving ACT general manager Cherry Bailey.

“There’s still a bit of residual hesitation in society to get out and amongst other people,” she says.

“These types of jobs are very up-close and personal. [Instructors] are out there in the community [and] interacting with other people whose backgrounds they don’t know.”

The shortage has put pressure on regular swim classes, which are at risk of being cancelled entirely, Ms Bailey says.  

“Managers and supervisors are responsible for compiling rosters and schedules and pulling all those casual employees together to create a really safe and functional environment in the pool,” she says.

“If they’re not able to pull enough people together to build those rosters, then programs and activities will be cancelled.”

It also means that children and adults could risk missing out on learning how to swim – a skill that can save lives in a country where water and swimming has become part of its culture.

The lifeguard shortage is not only present in the ACT, with Royal Life Saving Australia CEO Justin Scarr saying pools nationwide are struggling to fill vacancies.

“This is a significant issue for an industry which really struggled to survive the pandemic lockdowns,” he says.

A review of job advertisements posted to the online employment site, “Seek”, found that there were 198 job ads for paid pool lifeguards and 153 for swim teachers across Australia over the past week, according to Royal Life Saving Australia. 

“With many of these ads seeking multiple people, there are more than 500 positions available with an immediate start,” Mr Scarr says.

A search of the site today (May 18), but for the ACT region alone, revealed that there were about 10 positions for swim instructors or lifeguards needed in the last month.

Usually, Ms Bailey says many of those positions would be filled with university students who might work part-time while studying.

“[However], with the lack of international students and a lack of interest in being involved in community events and venues, it has been really, really tricky,” she says.

But it doesn’t need to be, according to Ms Bailey, who says training for lifeguards and swim instructors is relatively short, taking only three days to complete. It is also supported by the ACT government through its subsidy of skills training in the capital.

“It’s a great opportunity for people considered getting involved in the industry before because the funding is there for training,” she says.

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