Aquatic Labor Shortages Challenges Industry

Aquatic labor shortages are challenging swimming pool operators around the country.  With the industry picking up throughout most of the country, businesses are facing a problem they didn’t expect until further up the sales curve — a shortage in labor.

Between 2013 and 2015, difficulties finding skilled labor was perhaps the No. 1 complaint among professionals in all industry segments.

That talk stopped during the recession as local markets contracted by as much as 80 or even 90 percent.

Now that the national economy seems to be on an upswing, companies are looking to grow again. Many figured that there would be plenty of workers available who had left the pool and spa field and were ready to come back.

Reports of labor shortages seem most prevalent in areas such as Phoenix, Sacramento County, and certain parts of Florida, which had experienced the largest construction booms last decade only to be hit hardest in the recession. While the problem doesn’t seem as prevalent in the Northeast and Southeast, those areas haven’t been immune.

In some cases, the response to job advertisements has been even less than it was at the height of the economy.

Even managers who found good hires this season worry what will happen at the next growth phase. “If we needed to pick up the pace to make up for rain or something like that, you can’t just go out there and find somebody,”

Some experts believe that the industry’s severe contraction caused professionals to leave in droves and gain other skills.

“A lot of people had to find other ways to make a living, and they’re sticking with that because at least they can count on it, whether they’re self employed or [in another industry],”

In addition, many immigrants couldn’t stay in the country when work ran out, either because employment was a condition for their green cards or because they couldn’t make ends meet.

Yet it seems the staffing problem may have deeper roots than the recession. As many pool and spa professionals move toward retirement, there aren’t enough young people to take their place.

Other professionals report that they’re hiring candidates with solid work ethics, but no pool experience, and having to train them.

Lifeguards are NOT Babysitters!

This is why lifeguards are not babysitters.  Last week I took my children to a small community water park. It’s a nice facility with a couple of big water slides, a lazy river, and a water playground for the little ones. The depth is only about 3 ½ feet at a maximum, so my 10-year-old twins are able to stand up easily everywhere in the pool.

My four-year-old, however, is too short for the deeper sections, and had to stick to the little kids’ area, which was only about 18 inches deep. I had forgotten to bring her life jacket, so even in the shallow water, I stayed close enough to keep an eye on her.

Watching your child is your responsibility

The municipal water park we visited had a number of lifeguards on duty. The lifeguards were attentive, and worked on a rotation so that they would always be alert. Still, I did not depend on them to babysit my kids. The lifeguards are there to make sure swimmers follow the safety rules and to help if anyone is in danger, but in a crowded pool even the best lifeguards can miss things.

Such was the case in Manassas, Virginia in June. Lifeguards were on duty when a 4-year-old girl nearly drowned at the bottom of a community pool.

But had it not been for the heroic action of another swimmer, a 9-year-old girl, the younger girl would have likely died. The young rescuer swam to the bottom and pulled the 4-year-old to the side, where lifeguards administered life-saving CPR.

Who is to blame?

My first thought upon reading about the above case was probably the same as yours: Where was the mother of the little girl who nearly drowned? As it turned out, she was not even in the pool area when the accident happened. The 23-year-old mother had left all five of her children, ranging from 1 to 8 years old, unattended at the pool while she went to the front desk to check in a friend.

Local authorities took the incident seriously. The police charged the mother with three counts of child neglect, one for each of her youngest three children. They made it clear that when it comes to very young kids, at least, children must not be left unattended at the pool even in the presence of lifeguards.

Don’t let your “me time” put your kids at risk

I’ve always been the type of mom who gets in the pool with her kids. I know that pools can be very dangerous, and that little ones can drown even while using flotation devices. Besides, small children love to play with their parents in the water. It’s a great place to have fun and build happy memories. The same cannot be said if all your kids can see of you from the pool is the bottom of your feet and the backside of your swimsuit as you tan yourself on a chaise lounge.

Everyone needs some time to relax, but the time to sunbathe, read a magazine or take a nap is not while your children play unattended in a pool. And leaving small children alone at the pool is completely unacceptable. If you have young kids, especially little ones who cannot yet swim, you should be in the pool with them, close enough to help if they get into trouble. Parenting is your job, and drowning can happen in seconds.