Swim Life Magazine

Aquatic Staff Shortage: Part 2
Lifeguards Wanted?
Generation Z please apply!


By Cheryl Sibany

Editor Swim Life Magazine

All rights reserved by Swim Life Magazine.ca

The problem of insufficient qualified aquatic staff is not likely to go away any time soon.  We are competing for a dwindling pool of potential candidates. Recruiting programs to attract already qualified candidates is not enough; we must entice young people to participate in our aquatic leadership programs.  According to studies of Canadian jobs[i], 15% of lifeguards work for less than one year and 66% work no more than 4 years. Retaining staff once hired is the challenge we must also rise to. 

The Lifesaving Society’s recent Annual Report [ii] showed the real state of affairs regarding participation in aquatic leadership programs and the view is far from pretty. Between 2012 and 2014 there is a distinct and worrying trend of declining involvement, a virtual flat line in Lifeguarding and Instructor certifications.

The increased demand for aquatic facilities and aquatics program opportunities has resulted in a more difficult recruiting and retention environment. Both the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury [iii] and the City of Markham [iv] produced first-rate focused recruitment videos. Markham added the first 50m pool [v] in the York Region, within its new Pan Am Centre and is struggling to fill its aquatic staff roster this year.  Despite some great work being done, in terms of recruiting programs, managers face increasing pressure to keep operations running with critical shortages in staff. 

Creditable promotional efforts aimed at encouraging participation in aquatic leadership programs do exist. The Lifesaving Society’s, Ontario Branch main page [vi] is filled with dynamic positive messages supporting Lifeguarding, Lifesaving Sport and Swim programs.  Promotional material like Toronto’s aquatic leadership brochure[vii] presents a positive image of meaningful work. Even so to fill the aquatics community’s growing need for qualified staff evidence indicates conventional strategies are not encouraging sufficient numbers of youth to participate in aquatic leadership programs. Our population is changing, in 20 years 1 in 3 Canadian workers will be foreign born[viii], this fact alone creates barriers both economic and social to aquatic leadership training. We need a board sector campaign involving training partners and employers to reduce barriers and to promote the social and educational value that jobs in aquatics offer.

Youth 15 and 24 year olds are attracted to employment opportunities that offer flexibility and that opportunity exists in several sectors of the Canadian economy. [ix] Youth workers looking for part-time and seasonal employment are a targeted group in the tourism, food and beverage and hospitality. Recreation programs need staff willing to work flexible part-time hours as recreation programs are designed around leisure times. Complicating our recruitment efforts is the essential requirement for specific qualifications. To effectively attract the dwindling number of youth available in the labour force, we must make an effort to understand this new generation of potential employee’s and their needs in order to get their attention early enough for them to acquire the skills we need and once hired keep them on-deck as long as possible.

Generation Ys & Zs are the two largest demographic cohorts[x] to come after the baby boomers.[xi] Millennials[xii] born between 1981 and 1995, dominate our current part-time positions and many of our full-time positions. They are our front-line managers, supervisors and aquatic leadership instructors.  Generation Z, a smaller group, follows the "Y" millennials, born after 1995, are our new hires, are now teaching learn-to-swim programs, lifeguarding and leading camps and they are clearly different from millennials.  If Ys were the perfectly connected generation, Zs are joined to technology.

There are similarities between Generations Y and Z, such as smaller family sizes, closeness and connection to parents; they value a balance between work and life.  They are both linked to their families and friends through social media and portable technologies. Don’t bother attempt to phone either Ys or Zs, they rarely answer and half of them don’t even bother initialize their phone message system. Ys will respond to emails but forget emails to Zds, they text in real time, responding to emails days later Both generations are idealistic,[xiii] they want organizations to care and be socially responsible and value meaningful work. They are very flexible in their approach to work and seek organizations that are innovative. They prefer to be coached not lead and want to demonstrate their own leadership skills.

Y’s come to work in the nick of time and leave just as quickly, Zds blend work, friends and family together coming in to chat before work and going out after work with workmates and friends. Ys tend to keep their work life and personal life separate; Zds have little concern for privacy and have no problem sharing details of their lives.  They expect to know the people they work with and for. While both Ys and Zs enjoy the team approach to work Ys value independence whereas Zds can be high maintenance. Ys expect performance feedback and seek it out. In the Z’s world there is merely approval they often respond poorly to criticism, making on-the-job evaluation a challenge. Y’s enjoy their leadership role in recreation programming, Zds value having fun and positive friendly relationships with their students and campers.

The contributions of both generations to aquatic recreation are inspirational. They bring innovation and new ways of looking at problems. With their genuine desire to make a difference their connections to the children they teach and lead is often insightful and certainly motivational.  Here a few small adaptions you can make to keep these lifeguards and instructors on deck;

Be mindful of their school and personal schedules
Accept that they will work less hours per week than their predecessors
Provide leadership opportunities and give them responsibility
Make your organization more social, plan some non-work activities with your staff and share a little more of yourself as a person
Teach and  role model while leading
Provide training, especially in the area of interpersonal and communication skills
Provide lots of acknowledgment of a job well done it encourages performance and growth

Research shows[xiv] that when looking for career advice, Gen Ys prefer to talk to their friends or managers. More than half of Gen Zs rely on parental advice to influence their choices. If we want youth to take the needed qualifications to keep our operations running it is essential to appeal directly to their parents.  We must demonstrate the value participants receive for aquatic leadership programs.

Students in secondary and post-secondary institutions should receive recognition for what they learn when engaged in leadership activities and education outside of the classroom. Several Universities and Colleges[xv] already recognize recreation leadership programs and work with direct program credits. Those institutions recognize that students gain real and relevant experience and often becoming role models within their schools and communities. [xvi] As an employment sector we must promote the social and educational value that jobs in aquatics and recreation offer. We must lobby for the recognition of the abilities candidates gain through leadership education and career applicable skills they acquire while on the job.


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[i] Payscale human Capital: http://www.payscale.com/research

[ii] http://www.lifesavingsociety.com/about-us/annual-report.aspx

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWe2Y6Vqdc0&feature=youtu.be

[iv] https://youtu.be/ls8WC063Uo0

[v]  www.flickr.com/photos/cityofmarkham/15844543716/

[vi] http://www.lifesavingsociety.com/home.aspx

[vii] http://www1.toronto.ca/parks/pdf/swimming/aquatic_leadership_2014.pdf

[viii] Projected trends to 2031 for the Canadian labour force By Laurent Martel, Éric Caron Malenfant, Jean-Dominique Morency, André Lebel, Alain Bélanger*, Nicolas Bastien

[ix] R U Ready 4 Us? An Introduction to Canadian Millennials David Coletto, January 22, 2012

[x] Demographics and the Canadian workforce -  Brian Kreissl - http://www.hrreporter.com/blog/HR-Policies-  Oct 15,  2014

[xi] Here Comes Generation Z - Leonid Bershidsky - bloombergview.com JUN 18, 2014

[xii] There is no agreement on the exact range of birth dates for Generations Y or Z

[xiii] Generation Z: The kids who’ll save the world? The Globe and Mail SHELLEY WHITE, Sep. 25 2014

[xiv] www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/human-resources/2015/02/how-to-attract-millennial-and-gen-z-   

   employees.html?page=all

[xv] TRU Co-curricular Peer Leaders Program- Thompson Rivers University

[xvi] PEER LEADERSHIP: A guide to implementing school-based peer leadership programs – Alberta Health Services



Some additional reading:

1. Managing to Manage Across Generations at Work - Krista L. Saleh Desjardins Financial Security

2. Gen Y, Gen Z want vastly different things from work: survey - Gail Johnson | Pay Day – 2 Sep, 2014 Type your paragraph here.