Englewood is among 71 recipients of a new grant, Pools Special Initiative 2022, to help address staffing shortages at swimming pools across Colorado.
However, Brad Anderson, Englewood aquatics manager, said the help may be too late to really make a difference in recruitment this season.
“I wish it would’ve came earlier,” said Anderson, who oversees the operations of Pirates Cove Family Aquatic Center and Englewood Recreation Center's pool.
Anderson said although he and the city are grateful the staffing shortage is being addressed, the ability to recruit, train and hire new lifeguards takes time. As July begins, he’s not sure how much help it will be in getting more lifeguards, which the facility has been facing a shortage of since about August 2021.
The splash park at Pirates Cove Family Aquatic Center.
Public swimming pools across Colorado have faced staffing shortages, especially of lifeguards, this summer. The shortage not only caused Pirates Cove to delay its opening by a week, but also to close every Monday for the rest of the 2022 season, the facility announced June 23.
“We’re in uncharted waters,” said Anderson, who has worked for the city for 38 years. “What we experienced this year was something totally different that we had not experienced over 19 years at Pirates Cove, nor all the other years that I’ve operated the Englewood Rec Center.”
Morning learn to swim classes at the Englewood Recreation Center have been canceled due to staffing shortages.
“That was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made,” Anderson said.
Drowning still remains the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for those between the ages of 1 and 14, he said, but Englewood did not have enough instructors for the program.
Pirates Cove ideally has 125 lifeguards for the summer season, Anderson said. Currently, it has about 100, but many of them came late in the season.
“We recognized early on that we were not getting the applications, even though we were still advertising in the usual means that we were doing before,” he said. “We had to change some of the ways that we were advertising and recruiting staff.”
One strategy Englewood implemented was doing more social media outreach as well as a campaign on iHeartRadio, Anderson said. Englewood also offered a recruiting bonus to staff. If a staff member recruited someone to join the team and that person worked for at least one month, the staff member would get $20 for each recruited person, up to about $250, he said.
The pay for staff was also increased, Anderson said.
“For most of the workers, we always paid right at minimum wage, and then lifeguards usually got about $1 an hour more,” Anderson said. The higher rate for lifeguards is partly due to the extra training lifeguards have to do.
This year, the minimum wage rate, which Anderson said was about $12.74, was increased to $13 an hour. New lifeguards can now earn $15 an hour and returning lifeguards earn $15.50.
Anderson said he noticed comments on Facebook that said the reason for the staffing shortage is due to not paying workers enough.
“We’re above minimum wage, but also realize that the age of the kids — this isn’t a working wage. These aren’t people that are relying on the income that they’re working this summer on to support their family,” Anderson said. The majority of the lifeguards are between the ages of 15 and 21, he said.
After delaying opening by a week and having to close the first two Mondays and Tuesdays in June due to a lack of lifeguard staff, Pirates Cove was able to get more lifeguards hired and trained for the summer season, Anderson said. However, despite the number of staff being closer to the normal amount, a new challenge presented itself: Many workers did not want to work 40 hours a week.
“What we quickly noticed is that they only wanted to work one or two days a week, and so then that was another burden,” Anderson said. “We made the hard decision that we will not be open on Mondays."
The delays and more limited hours will impact revenue, but Anderson is not sure by how much. Although Pirates Cove is losing money from the closures, there is also a cost savings on expenditures because of there being less staff, he said.
People at Pirates Cove Family Aquatic Center.
In response to staffing shortages at public swimming pools across Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis' office announced on June 21 a new grant program called Pools Special Initiative 2022.
This one-time grant program, a partnership between the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, aims to incentivize and retain public swimming pool employees.
Local governments operating a public swimming pool that is experiencing issues were able to apply for up to $25,000. Englewood applied for $25,000 and was informed June 30 that it was awarded $12,500, Anderson said.
“We’re gonna use it for retention,” Anderson said about the grant money. For example, if a staff member stays for a certain amount of time and meets a certain level of requirements, they will be given a bonus.
It’s a method Englewood currently implements, offering a bonus of up to $250 if employees work a certain number of hours a week and stay through the end of the season, which is Labor Day weekend, Anderson said.
Anderson also wants to offer a bonus to employees who stay for the whole year, helping retain employees for a longer period of time.
“That’s going to kind of help combat what we noticed last year, when all of a sudden we seen a mass exodus of staff not completing the year,” Anderson said.
In 2021, Pirates Cove was fully staffed going into Memorial Day weekend, but during the latter half of July, employees began to leave.
“And then that never bounced back this year when we opened up and when we were recruiting for staff,” he said.
In addition to the Pools Special Initiative 2022, Polis' office also announced two other efforts to combat staffing shortages at public pools: 16- and 17-year-old lifeguards can work more overtime and new lifeguards can get $1,000 if they complete the required training and begin employment as a lifeguard.
Although the ability for 16- and 17-year-olds to work overtime is nice, Anderson said he doesn’t think the efforts will “help a whole bunch right now.”
The $1,000 signing bonus also raises an issue of equity, Anderson said. Even though the effort helps address the staffing issue, it leaves out employees that have been working since the beginning of the season.
“We’re halfway through the season and we’re gonna give someone a $1,000 bonus to come on and work for us, but then there’s that kid that applied back in March and we hired — what do they get?” Anderson said.
Pirates Cove Family Aquatic Center.
When asked why he thinks there has been such a big staffing shortage this year, Anderson said that’s the million-dollar question.
“I think the pandemic had a lot to do with it,” he said.
In 2020, Pirates Cove wasn’t able to open until about mid-June, and it was restricted to 200 people in the park at a time, a big change from the park’s average of 1,600 people a day, Anderson said.
Anderson said some challenges in recruiting and keeping staff for the full season include fewer high school job fairs for Englewood to attend, as well as schools starting earlier in August.
“Once school starts, we can’t be open during the week because we don’t have the staffing” Anderson said. “And so we’ve had to adjust that schedule to where we have to make that closing down in August earlier because schools are starting earlier.”
The staffing shortage is something Anderson has been discussing with colleagues across the U.S., he said.
“We’re all facing the same thing,” he said. “Being in this field for 38 years, this is the most difficult year that I’ve ever had. And basically, that all comes back down to staffing.”
Overall, Anderson said he apologizes to community members for the impact the staffing shortage has had on Pirates Cove and the Englewood Recreation Center.
“We are working on it. We have been working tirelessly and endlessly,” Anderson said. “Just bear with us.”
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