(Joplin, MO) – As summer approaches, Joplin Parks and Recreation are actively working to open pools this summer. The pool lines and pumps have been checked, the pool amenities are ready, and the deck chairs and canopies are in place. The most difficult challenge they’re facing is hiring 90 lifeguards. To date, the department has only received 14 applications and a minimum of 30 is needed just to open Cunningham Pool.
“Lifeguards are essential workers in the parks and rec field and to the community,” said Paul Bloomberg, Director. “Without them, we can’t open a pool, and we don’t want that to happen and I’m sure the citizens don’t either.”
Last year, Parks and Recreation faced a similar shortage but was able to recruit enough staff to open the main part of Schifferdecker Pool and a few weeks later were able to open the Lazy River. With the number of slides and other amenities that pools have, it takes more people to staff a full shift.
The safety standard is to have enough staff so that all zones are covered, and if someone gets into trouble, they are able to be reached in a certain amount of time. Joplin’s pools are large, and some areas in the pool are popular for swimmers to gather.
“We must ensure that we have enough guards on the deck to reach them in a very quick time. That drives up the number of guards needed. Safety is always the top priority, and we can’t open any of the pools unless we have the lifeguards.”
Joplin is not alone in this staffing challenge. According to the American Lifeguard Association, last year’s lifeguard shortage kept about a third of the 309,000 public swimming pools closed or opened sporadically.
Bloomberg is encouraging people of all ages to consider lifeguarding and not a job just for teenagers.
“We need to think about it as a summer job that benefits many people. Former lifeguards or those who enjoy water sports and have time to give can earn a little extra spending money. Just working some hours during the week, would help boost our guard numbers so we can open pools this season. There is no maximum age limit, and we’d appreciate it if others would consider being a lifeguard this summer. I’m sure the swimmers would too.”
In addition to being a fun summer activity, Joplin pools offer opportunities for swim lessons for some 400 kids each year. Local day camps bring their classes to the pool at least once a week as part of their programming, and many families and groups have hosted birthday parties and other social events at the pool.
“Pools are a great gathering place and provide fun recreational options throughout the summer. We really are trying to provide that for our community, but without more people applying to work as a lifeguard, I’m afraid of what this summer will look like.”
As seasonal City employees, lifeguards earn $10.71 per hour for the first year. As returning lifeguards, staff could see an increase in their hourly rate. “In the past, we’ve had lifeguards work for us for five or six years, but that’s not the case anymore. They either have additional school commitments or seek other job opportunities that can offer higher pay. This makes our planning difficult because we aren’t sure of the number of guards we’ll have for the summer. This year is more of a challenge because many businesses are hiring and can pay more than a municipal pool job can.”
Bloomberg notes that the City does offer flexible schedules and works around other commitments, which could help if someone makes lifeguarding their second job on a part-time basis.
Parks and Recreation will continue planning to open the pools this year. The goal is to hire 60 lifeguards to open Schifferdecker Pool, with the hope of hiring enough lifeguards to open Cunningham Pool as well.
This year’s opening date has been moved to Friday, June 2, due to schools dismissing right before Memorial Day. This is later than usual and does not allow for the time needed to conduct specific lifeguard facility training before the holiday.
To learn more about working as a lifeguard, apply at the Human Resources Department at Joplin City Hall located at 602 S. Main or online. Applicants need to be 16 years of age by the first day on the job.
“We are hopeful that we can get more applicants and get people trained soon so we can at least open Cunningham Pool for the season. The number one priority at the aquatic centers is the safety of our visitors and staff, which means we need more lifeguards. A lot more lifeguards.” said Bloomberg.
About Joplin Parks & Recreation
The Joplin Parks and Recreation Department provides quality parks, services, and programs to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Joplin and surrounding communities. Learn more at www.joplinparks.org.
Lynn Iliff Onstot, Public Information Officer
City of Joplin
417.624.0820, ext. 204