Spring has officially arrived, despite the snow on the ground, which means swimming season will be here before we know it — but Manitoba pools are scrambling to meet the need for lifeguards.
The province’s dearth of qualified lifeguards is due, in part, to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Christopher Love of Lifesaving Society Manitoba.
“Pre-pandemic, there were approximately 1,000 lifeguards trained or re-trained each year, and that really plummeted during the pandemic,” Love told 680 CJOB’s The Start.
“We haven’t quite gotten back to that level. The most recent figures we have are 2022, where we had approximately 900.”
Another hurdle, he said, is that the facilities where lifeguards can train and be certified are also facing staffing shortages of their own.
“Every pool out there for the province of Manitoba has been running full steam, in terms of trying to get as many through the door and people trained as possible.
“Of course, they’re starting at a deficit, because many staff left the industry during the pandemic shutdown and went to other jobs.”
Getting those staffing levels back up, he said, is a process that will take time.
“Although the facilities out there are, they are training as quickly as possible, they don’t have as many staff as they did before the pandemic to be training those 1,000 lifeguards per year.”
The need for qualified lifeguards comes as parents rushed online Tuesday morning to sign their children up for swimming lessons through Winnipeg’s leisure guide — but in some areas of the city, there are other options for kids to learn to swim.
The Seve Oaks School Division has been offering lessons to its Grade 4 students for the past 50 years — a program that’s popular with both students and families.
“Skating, swimming, riding a bike safely are all, we think, life skills that all schools should be teaching,” Seven Oaks superintendent Brian O’Leary told Global News.
“They’re very popular with kids and popular with parents.”
O’Leary said the division budgets between $250-300,000 each year for the program.
“That’s pool rental, that’s hiring instructors, and then there’s a cost for busing to and from the pool,” he said.
“That’s swimming lessons for about 800-900 kids — the cost per kid isn’t that much.”