More than thirty aquatic professionals, recreational leaders, institutional and community representatives and workforce development experts have been meeting in recent months to enhance cooperation, leverage resources, and combine energies in solving what is believed to be a critical shortage of lifeguards in the region.
Defining the problem locally:
Common-ground meetings to discuss recreation opportunities and matters of youth development are rare due to typical turf issues, groups operating in silos, and, in this particular case, a lack of emphasis in improving water safety.
Pittsburgh is blessed with many seasonal and year-round swimming pools. But, the lifeguard shortage has had a drastic impact on programming opportunities for children and adults. Staffing shortages are putting every facility in crisis mode.
Pittsburgh Public Schools keeps its 15 school pools idle (with rare exceptions) during out-of-school times (late afternoons, evenings, nights, weekends, vacation days and throughout the summer). The Pittsburgh Project operates an outdoor pool on the Northside for its 100+ campers and the community, but on May 30, 2019, only one out of ten needed lifeguards had been hired. On May 1, 2019, Citiparks’ aquatic staff was seeking to fill an additional 60 lifeguard positions for its outdoor pools to open in June. In December 2019, a meeting at The Kingsley Center in East Liberty happened while its pool was closed -- no lifeguards. In the past (summer of 2016), nearly 200 students took part in the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamers Swim & Water Polo Camp. In recent years, staffing shortages in 2018 and 2019 caused the elimination of this popular activity. After-school swimming used to occur regularly at a number of schools, including Arsenal, Westinghouse, U-Prep, Obama and Perry, but this has been curtailed due to the lack of certified lifeguards.
Defining the problem globally:
Poor health and wellness issues such as higher rates of obesity and asthma are not able to be addressed when the pools are closed. Drowning is a leading cause of accidental deaths among children and youths, especially for those coming from disadvantaged populations. Better self-esteem, structured play, body-awareness and sportsmanship cannot be learned when pools sit vacant. Lessons of responsibility and the process of job training and accreditation with entry-level, lifeguard jobs have been vanishing, especially among poorer, African-American students.
Assembling a group of stakeholders to address the problem:
In recent months, the Lifeguard Recruitment Initiative has been attempting to garner support and interest from among many stakeholders in the area: Universities (Pitt, Slippery Rock, Duquesne), secondary schools (PPS, private, Catholic, suburban), certification providers (American Red Cross, YMCA, Ellis & Associates), community development leaders (Partners 4 Work, Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, Center That Cares, Mistick Construction), government (Allegheny County Recreation, Citiparks), corporations (84 Lumber), and nonprofit recreational venues (Kingsley Association, The Pittsburgh Project, country clubs). Since the initial meeting, small group meetings have been ongoing.
Forming the principal goals for the initiative:
- More year-round employment and swimming opportunities for youth and families, especially among the African-American population, and promoting greater wellness, public safety, and the job certifications.
- Incorporation of academic components into lifeguard training, with an emphasis on reading, blended learning, study and testing. Training has a direct link to employment.
- Support for community institutions with lifeguard needs that will allow them to boost utilization of their pools and bring greater recreational opportunities to already-built facilities.
Strategies and Solutions:
A model with synergistic outcomes among diverse stakeholders needs to be advocated for, agreed upon, crafted, and tested in the winter of 2020 that leads into summer’s high-demand. Innovative elements are being identified and shared within the coalition that should help to alleviate the shortage. However, funding is needed to implement the following measures:
- Obtain longer engagement from the existing stakeholders. Second, the funds could create, and better sustain, new pathways for disadvantaged city youth to lifeguard jobs.
- Conduct outreach to Pittsburgh high school students to identify potential interest; offer of free coaching throughout the certification process and linkage to employers.
- Build a database from recruitment efforts aimed at students and families, using the City of Pittsburgh’s summer Learn & Earn Program as a model.
- Ensure that Start-up efforts for both recruitment and training are underway by mid- February, four months before summer employment begins.
Trainers are prepared to start helping with the youths. Pool time has been secured at PPS Allegheny, at two YMCAs and at Kingsley Association.
Program Plan for Lifeguard Recruitment and Training Initiative
The activities of this project, and the likely outcomes, include:
High school students, individually:
In-person recruitment visits to schools, generally in lunch periods, starts at PPS U-Prep. Existing relationships with agencies and educators help in reaching additional students and discuss the opportunities and employment process. Student info is captured with our opt-in form for follow-up.
In 2020, Lifeguard Recruitment discussions can kick-off the Learn & Earn outreach, a practice conducted throughout the years with positive, one-to-one, school-based results.
We expect an introduction and school-announcements to reach a super-majority of students at every school. We’ll expect to identify and begin relationship-building with more than 15 new leads at every targeted school.
Mass mailings to the homes of all PPS high school juniors and seniors notifies guardians and reinforces the messages delivered at school. The mailing/distribution of up to 3,000 flyers can generate 100+ calls and 50 additional leads.
Invitations to pool-side meetings are being scheduled to gather the interested participants and their friends. The pools at the Thelma Lovette YMCA and at PPS Allegheny allow for instructor trainers to visit with the potential guards and offer some in-water conditioning and coaching in advance of the water-skills tests.
Opportunities for swim coaching before embarking on the regular, lifeguard-training course happen on Saturdays on the Northside’s PPS Allegheny. Prospects are encouraged to drop in, no charge, to gain confidence.
Many lifeguard course opportunities are shared with prospects. Some are costly outside of the city. A variety of lifeguard courses occur in the spring and early summer at various sites from Pitt, JCC, Sandcastle, Moon Township, Chartiers Valley, etc.
Citiparks holds no-cost lifeguard classes at the Oliver Bath House in the spring on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings and in May on Saturdays. Many of the job prospects we encounter will opt to go to those classes. With added outreach, we expect to recruit 20 additional candidates to the Citiparks lifeguard classes.
Four or more specialized classes geared to city kids, beyond Citiparks offerings, are being scheduled: One is to happen at the Kingsley Association, one has been promised for the Thelma Lovette YMCA and two or more classes are going to happen the Northside with the Saturday Swim School / Pgh Project. Each of the 5 classes expects to have 5 or more students, >25 total.
Start dates depend upon registration and enrollment but all are expected to be completed by June 15, 2020.
Training and testing for certification for Lifeguard, CPR, First Aid consumes more than 20-hours.
The program anticipates an additional 40 youths to successfully enroll, pass the pre-swim testing, complete the necessary training, pass the certification tests, apply for and obtain lifeguard positions in the summer of 2020.
The economic impact of 40-additional guards, each earning an average of $2,000 in the summer months, generates $80,000 of earned income.
These 40 additional guards, spread among the various facilities throughout the area, from community pools to Guards at PPS Summer Dreamers SKWIM & Water Polo Camp, is going to cut the lifeguard gap considerably, perhaps by half. Getting 20 pools, an additional two lifeguard employees on its staff is going to make matters much better for operations at our pools.
Budget - 2020
$400.00 for 3,000 piece bulk mailing to all PPS students age 16 and up-labels provided by PPS
$200.00 for Ongoing mailings and focused mailing to agencies that serve PPS students
$500.00 for Envelopes for all the mailings.
$600.00 Photocopying to copy flyers for all mailings, flyer distribution in the schools, and ongoing operations.
$300.00 Posters, Copying of posters to be put up in the schools and public places.
$2,000.00 for 40 Completion bonus at $50 per youth for to complete the certification process and acquires a lifeguard certification
$1,500.00 for bus tickets for training days.
Training Organization Support:
$3,000.00 Cost associated with the training and fees for certs at $1,000 per organization
$600.00 Food provided during the training process at $200 per organization to help with food during the training period.
$200.00 Cost associated with an employer event for matching and to promote youth that acquire a lifeguard certification.
$300.00 Items needed by youth in order to participate in the training: swim caps, bathing suits,
$400.00 Cost associated with pre-training meetings assisting with training selection process. Multiple meetings engaging youth interested in becoming a lifeguard.
Total budget $10,000.00
Additionally, Other sources: $5,000.00
Proposed work scope for the $5,000 of City funds focusing on the Lifeguard Initiative that is being provided to the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation
1) Establish a Citywide Lifeguard recruitment, certification, and retention committee. The committee will be made up of City officials, non-profits, lifeguard employers, and school officials.
2) Conduct a citywide lifeguard recruitment campaign heavily focused on PPS students.
3) Integrate lifeguard recruitment activities into the citywide campaign for Learn and Earn applicants.
4) Recruit 20 candidates that apply for lifeguard training, certification, and employment with the City of Pittsburgh for its summer swim season.
5) Collaborate with and provide financially support to two lifeguard training organizations that will train, provide lifeguard certifications, and assist with employment placement.
6) Provide incentives and transportation assistance to youth in the process of acquiring a lifeguard certification.