Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Parks Lifeguard Recruitment Improves

Milwaukee County ahead of last year's recruitment, though not on track for full staffing.

By - Apr 4th, 2023 05:27 pm
Bradford Beach, July 25th, 2009. Photo by Dave Reid.

Bradford Beach, July 25th, 2009. Photo by Dave Reid.

Milwaukee County Parks is finding more success recruiting lifeguards than in years past, as the county has struggled to staff its aquatic facilities.

The department reported in March that it was ahead of last year for lifeguard recruitment, with 64 guards committed for the season, including three head guards. In April last year, the department only had 29 guards committed.

“Parks has recruited in more ways and using more tools than in past years to recruit lifeguards,” the department stated.

Despite the improvement, the county is still not on track to fully staff all its public pools and beaches in 2023, which would require approximately 200 guards. The county has not had a fully staffed aquatics system for more than five years.

“Having a commitment for 64 lifeguards in March 2023 is a small step forward and we hope to increase this number by using all our recruitment and retention efforts for the upcoming summer season,” the department stated in the report.

The lifeguard shortage began well before the COVID-19 pandemic, but like so many things, the pandemic exacerbated the existing problem. In 2020, lifeguards sought other jobs as pools closed and new classes and re-trainings were canceled. In May 2021, with pools and beaches set to reopen in less than a month, the department found itself with approximately 50 guards.

The county board responded to public disappointment over closed pools and unguarded beaches with new funding for recruitment and training, along with hourly pay increases and new bonuses. But even with the new funding, parks still struggled to find enough guards for 2022.

The department described recruitment efforts: “Regular recruitment strategies include on site visits to schools, swim meets, and recreational clubs, outreach via Parks’ website and community partners, media interviews, social media, posting of physical information at County facilities, radio and podcast advertisement, and hosting job fairs. In addition, Parks has hosted more seasonal hiring events and participated in more job fairs than in recent years, as well as continued a seasonal incentive program that could net any lifeguard an additional $1,000 in bonus compensation.”

But finding enough people isn’t the only challenge. The department had a high attrition rate for its lifeguard training classes this winter. Of the 76 people that signed up, only 10 completed the training. The bulk of the guards for this season will be returning guards, which is typical of seasonal lifeguarding jobs.

While parks will have more guards to work with, difficult decisions about which facilities to open and which to keep closed this summer still lay ahead. The department reported that it will use “final lifeguard employment numbers, along with consideration for amenities offered, and equity to drive our facility opening schedule to provide programming to as many patrons as possible.”

Categories: MKE County, Parks

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