Repositioning Aquatic Employment

In recent years many municipal, non-profit and private agencies have expanded their aquatic offerings while at the same time a large portion of youths that has traditionally sought aquatic-related part-time jobs have pursued other opportunities. In many metropolitan areas, the number of lifeguard and swim instructor applicants has decreased, sometimes forcing operators to hire less-qualified people. Also, university students who used to lifeguard in the summer are now seeking seasonal jobs, internships and co-ops in areas related to their major with the hope of enhancing their resume for the ultimate job hunt after college.

A college student explains, “My older sister was a lifeguard in the summers, and it seemed like a lot of fun with good pay. I considered taking a job like that this summer, but I needed to do something that was more degree- and career-related, something that would provide me experience, training and leadership opportunities to enhance my resume and prepare me for getting a good job when I graduate.”

As the college-graduate job market expects more from students prior to graduation, the number of seasonal college staff continues to dwindle. This may also affect a portion of the high school students who recognize the trend and seek an early start to their careers. The good news is that this trend does not have to affect a facility if you reposition the organization, the summer employment and development opportunities.

Many aquatic managers fail to market and publicize the value of seasonal aquatic work and the tremendous opportunities these positions offer to develop a work ethic, learn cooperative teamwork, and develop leadership skills. The entry-level, seasonal aquatic position and mid-level management positions also provide initial training and experience that can lead to a variety of public service- and safety-related careers. Marketing this side of the “lifeguard experience” can have a significant impact on the overall number–as well as the quality–of applicants.

The following is a brief review of the most important careers related to aquatics and career development opportunities that begin when a young person accepts that first lifeguard, swim instructor or cashier position.

General Aquatic Careers

It is not surprising that most of today’s aquatic professionals work in swimming pool environments, but there is a myriad of public and private agencies that employ effective aquatic managers. When most people think of a career in recreation or aquatics, they naturally consider municipalities as the primary source of jobs. But there are many other recreation and aquatic providers too. Most notably, in aquatics, is the YMCA. The YMCA has a rich history in swimming and lifesaving as one of the first organized trainers of lifeguards, and it offered some of the earliest swimming-lesson programs. The YMCA, along with other nonprofit agencies such as Jewish Community Centers, receives no tax money nor is otherwise publicly funded. Therefore, the challenges facing professionals working for these organizations are much different than those working for government agencies.

In addition to traditional municipalities and special recreation districts, many pools and aquatic facilities are operated by state and federal government entities. Many state parks, for example, own and operate aquatic facilities. The MassachusettsState Park system operates over 66 aquatic facilities, including 20 swimming pools, 38 inland beaches and eight ocean beaches. The federal government, on the other hand, operates many pools through the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) branch of the military. The MWR is a civilian branch charged with providing recreation to U.S. soldiers and their families on bases all over the world.

Another large operator of swimming pools is higher education institutions. Campus recreation departments at colleges and universities across the country are in need of competent aquatic professionals. Traditionally, university facilities have been built for student athletes, the swimming and diving teams and aquatic instruction/activity classes. The trend in the last decade, however, has been a move toward more leisure amenities to make them attractive for all students.

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