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As New Hampshire’s beaches, pools open, lifeguards still wanted

  • A lifeguard looks out at the waters of a New Hampshire beach. The applicant pool for lifeguards was razor-thin this year because of a minuscule unemployment rate, according to area recreation officials. Courtesy

  • Weirs Beach on Sunday, July 6, 2014. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)Beachgoers enjoy the beautiful weather at Weirs Beach yesterday. If you’re wondering about the best time of day to visit the beach, be prepared for a slew of answers – some prefer the quiet mornings while others like the heat of midday. Alan L. MacRae



Monitor staff
Thursday, June 14, 2018

Summer is practically here, but swimmers may still have to check their calendars before heading to their favorite swimming spot due to a shortage of lifeguards in the region.

While reaching full staffing levels is usually difficult, the applicant pool for lifeguards took a dive this year because of a minuscule unemployment rate, according to area recreation officials.

David Gill, the director for Concord Parks and Recreation Department, said the department was still sorting through applications and paperwork a week ahead of the opening of the city’s seven pools.

“While all the positions have been filled, some employees will
be completing the necessary
certification later this month,”
said a statement from Parks and Recreation. The city had a
late rush of applicants this year, leading to delayed openings at some of the city’s pools.

In Concord, pools open Saturday include Rollins, Rolfe, White, Kimball and Keach. Merrill and Garrison pools will open for swimming on July 1, but morning swim lessons will continue as planned for the first session, according to the statement.

Like others, Gill blamed the lack of applicants on a tight job market and a very low unemployment rate.

“There’s more options for kids these days,” Gill said. “A lot of companies are being more aggressive.”

Gill said he thinks there might be less pressure at home for high school-aged children to seek a job like a lifeguard or camp counselor. He said all their camp councilor positions have been filled.

Gill has been at Concord Parks and Rec for more than 20 years, and said this is the first year the city is offering to pay for the required lifeguard certification. He said he doesn’t think the cost of certification is a huge factor in driving away potential lifeguards, but it does help with recruitment.

“We are fortunate enough to be able to pay the costs of the certification,” Gill said. With a price tag of around $400, Gill said the city will pay for half the cost upfront and then reimburse the remainder to the new lifeguard at the end of the season.

The situation is similar across central New Hampshire.

Gilford

“Right now, we have 10 lifeguards plus our beach manager,” Herbert Greene, director of parks and recreation for Gilford, said. These numbers put Gilford four lifeguards short of the required amount for the season. Greene said that in the past, Gilford would post a couple openings for lifeguards and would have more than a dozen applicants. That is not the case this year.

“We just don’t have the number of applicants interested in the position,” Greene said. If Gilford cannot field four more lifeguards, the controlled swimming areas would be reduced coupled with the elimination of one lifeguard tower. Greene said swimming hours would not be affected.

“Part of it may be pay. We’ve got young people that can go out and they can get jobs that don’t need training,” Greene said.

A joint press release from the towns of Gilford, Meredith, Laconia and Belmont highlighted the growing problem that will affect hours and availability of swimming locations. The summer swimming season generally opens mid-June. However, the lack of lifeguards could mean some towns have to cut back on their services.

“These changes can result in beaches being guarded for fewer hours per day, fewer days per week, smaller swim areas covered by lifeguards and potentially some beaches may even stay closed for the season,” the release read.

Laconia

The problem of a lack of guards is more widespread than just Gilford and Concord. Assistant Recreation and Facilities Director Amy Lovisek of Laconia said the town is drastically understaffed for lifeguards on its five beaches. She said Laconia needs 13 lifeguards to watch all of its beaches. As of Tuesday, June 5, she had only three that she could rely on. Lovisek said others interested haven’t been as committed as she would like, putting more stress on her.

Lovisek said Weirs Beach will receive the most staffing, but noted there will be many days without a lifeguard.

“All the beaches will be open but they will be ‘swim at your own risk,’ ” she continued. “We don’t have gates like a pool, so we can’t put up a sign that says ‘No trespassing.’ ”

Lovisek recognized the problem is not only affecting Laconia, as she mentioned Concord and Manchester are having difficulties as well. “But they’re spending a lot more money,” she said. Lovisek said Laconia has gotten close to not having enough full-time lifeguards in the past but generally is able to manage with what they have. She said she hasn’t seen it this bad since the 1990s.

“Unemployment is so low, they don’t need to spend $400 to be certified to make the same amount flipping burgers,” Lovisek said. “There’s less intense jobs out there and that’s where they’re going.”

State beaches

Conversely, Public Information Officer for the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation Amy Bassett said they are not worried about filling positions at state beaches. Bassett said the ideal numbers of lifeguards for Seacoast beaches is 50, while the 12 inland beaches need 60 lifeguards.

“We’re only shy about 10 from our ideal number, but we are still filling those positions (in the Seacoast),” Bassett said.

This year isn’t any different from previous years, she said, adding that they always have a hard time filling positions at the start of the season. Bassett doesn’t expect any swimming sites to change their operating hours, but this could change if there are not enough lifeguards.

Cost of training

New Hampshire Employment Security economist Annette Nielsen said younger potential workers are moving away from these kinds of jobs.

“There are other things like sports, camps and online courses,” Nielsen said. “Part of it is that the kids’ participation rate has been lowering over the years so they might not be working.”

Nielsen said the students who would normally fill lifeguard positions are spending their time elsewhere because those experiences of online classes and camps can be more valuable when applying for college versus solely working for the summer. The unemployment rate in New Hampshire has been holding steady at 2.6 percent over the last several months, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 percent, a figure not seen since April of 2000.

A major factor in the lack of applicants can also be attributed to the training required to become a lifeguard. America Red Cross training requires 40 hours and costs around $300. At the Concord YMCA, Aquatics Director Jen Bonnett said she is the sole teacher currently at the Y who can train lifeguards. The process takes 40 hours, with a total cost for a newcomer of $200.

Lifeguards can make anywhere from $9 to $14 per hour, depending on the town or city.

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 369-3325, jdawson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @jaked156.)