Combatting job shortages: Lifeguard training available in Western New York

"We've had a shortage in staff over the time of COVID due to the lack of being able to hold classes in person. Their certifications expired"
Lifeguard
Ben Rinaldo, lifeguard on-duty at Buffalo Niagara's YMCA. Photo credit Max Faery - WBEN

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - A national lifeguard shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic is bubbling up in communities locally.

A worker shortage is partly to blame, along with the hours and commitment it takes to achieve the qualifications for the job.

"We've had a shortage in staff over the time of COVID, due to the lack of being able to hold classes in person. Their certifications expired. We just need more time to be able to get those recertified. We have enough staff in place to provide programming, we would like to be able to provide more, but we just need more staff to do that," said Ehrin 'E' Hughes, Senior Program Director of Aquatics at Buffalo Niagara's YMCA.

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Why are teenagers and young adults not signing up to become a lifeguard? Ed Leak, Director of Recreation and Parks in the town of Orchard Park says it may have something to do with the cost of certification.

"It does not surprise me that there are few considering becoming lifeguards because to become a lifeguard, you have to pay up to $350 for certification. It's a financial commitment for some," said Leak, "Those who are lifeguards and pursuing a career in education, lifeguarding helps them out as far as being a well-rounded individual that can ultimately teach."

The certification process for becoming a lifeguard may be easier than you think. A lot of local school programs, gyms and local pool clubs are offering lifeguard certification classes done in association with the American Red Cross.

"We provide the American Red Cross lifeguard certification at the YMCA and it takes about 29 hours for a full course in person or if you were to do a blended course, it would be about 20 hours in person and a seven hour completion for the online e-learning," said Hughes.

"They need to be a minimum age of 15 and they would have to complete a prerequisite swim test of 300 yards swimming continuously, showing their ability to control their breath and endurance. Then they'll have to do two minutes of treading water only using their legs. And then they would complete a timed event that involves diving for a 10-pound object and swimming it back to the water's edge and exiting the water successfully. I would definitely recommend that they take a look at that and join one of our classes. We're providing lifeguarding classes that are starting this Thursday and will be over the weekend and we're hoping to have more staff certified so that we can add more programming in our YMCA and keep more in the community safe around water," Hughes added.

Orchard Park offers classes via Red Cross as well and they have programs available all-year round.

"We pair pay a very fair rate, which is certainly part of the attraction and again, I think the important thing is work. We give them an opportunity to work year-round and we seem to think that makes a difference," Leak said.

We reached out to the American Red Cross and they provided us with a written statement:

Currently, staff shortages go beyond the aquatic industry and the increased competition for workers has made it difficult for aquatic facilities to hire and retain staff. Facilities have experienced staffing and training disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the past 2 years. Now, many facilities are faced with recruiting, hiring and training 100% of the staff required to operate safely – including lifeguards, Water Safety Instructors and managers. Several organizations are offering hiring bonuses and increased payrates to help entice people to work for them. People 15-years-old and above with strong swimming skills, can enroll in an American Red Cross Lifeguarding course conducted by one of our training providers. Upon successful completion, they receive a 2-year certification in Lifeguarding, First Aid and CPR/AED for the Professional Rescuer. Information is available at redcross.org/lifeguarding.