West Vancouver is offering free lifeguard certification courses to address a severe shortage of aquatic staff as summer approaches.
Jill Lawlor, senior manager of community services with the District of West Vancouver, told Daily Hive there are only 32 lifeguards on staff this year where there would normally be 100.
That’s slashed swimming lesson capacity from 1,700 spots to just 400.
“We have a bit of a crisis,” she said. “We’re a waterfront community, so if we’re not teaching kids how to swim, and they haven’t learned how to swim over the past two years, in another year or two they’re going to be teenagers … it’s a huge risk for us all.”
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The staff shortage has led to a creative solution — offering free certification for prospective lifeguards who pass screening.
Normally the National Lifeguard Service and swim instructor courses cost $450 each — so it’s just under $1,000 to be a lifeguard. What’s more, those certifications expire every two years and guards need to renew them.
Lawlor hopes the free training will eliminate a barrier to some people considering the profession. Prospective lifegaurds can apply on West Vancouver’s website.
Applicants will need to finance their own First Aid training before being eligible to work. In addition, prospective guards need their Bronze Cross certification before completing their NLS.
In West Vancouver lifeguards make just over $24.87 plus a 12% boost in lieu of benefits ($27.85). Over time, a lifeguard can move through six steps up to $30.29 plus 12% ($33.92).
COVID-19 shut downs meant the usual number of lifeguards weren’t able to be trained around Metro Vancouver, and other municipalities are also experiencing guard shortages.
“COVID-19 had a pretty significant impact on us being able to continue that pipeline of certified lifeguards, but it’s important to note we had a lifeguard shortage before the pandemic,” Lawlor said.
A spokesperson with the Vancouver Park Board confirmed that paused lifeguard programs caused a two-year delay between potential new hires and current staff.
A lack of lifeguards means capacity limits have to be lowered at public pools and hours reduced.
“Parks and Rec is working diligently to acquire staff for pool operations and programming across the city,” the Park Board said. “In the coming weeks, various recruitment campaigns will launch and we hope people will keep an eye out for them as lifeguarding is a wonderful job for so many people.”