AREA — As schools let out for the summer and the days get warmer, people are looking to cool off with a swim. However, local pools are facing lifeguard shortages as part of a larger national shortage, which may affect regular hours this summer.
Over 309,000 parks and pools nationwide are facing lifeguard shortages, resulting in about 50 percent closing or reducing their hours, said Wyatt Werneth, public service spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association. Among the affected pools are Cranford’s Orange Avenue and Centennial Avenue pools, which require 80 lifeguards but are still 19 guards short, and the Manor Park Swim Club in Westfield that has hired 14 lifeguards with limited availability, but is still six lifeguards short of a full staff.
Karen Infantino, manager of Manor Park Swim Club, said that the facility is facing a lifeguard shortage on both ends of the summer. The college students leave in August and the high-school students are not able to start working until school lets out, she said. “I don’t have as many college kids this summer,” she added. “It seems like they are getting internships earlier,” instead of having a summer job, like being a lifeguard.
Since the pandemic, there has been less interest in lifeguarding, Mr. Werneth said. When pools were closed, “we didn’t have people talking about the great summer they had working as a lifeguard,” he said. “We need to get more people interested and to bring back the excitement [about lifeguarding].”
Mr. Werneth explained that one solution to the lifeguard shortage is “looking at lifeguarding in a different way.” Most lifeguards are high-school and college students, but to get more people interested, lifeguarding needs to “provide a career path forward” as a public-service career, rather than just a summer job, he said.
Local pools also have noticed a lack of interest in lifeguarding. “It seems like kids don’t want to get certified anymore,” Ms. Infantino said. She explained that many young people do not want to spend money on the certification course, which can cost upwards of $350 and requires a large time commitment. According to the American Red Cross, the traditional in-person course is 25 hours long and the blended learning course includes 19.5 hours in person and 7.5 hours online.
Lifeguards need to be at least 15 years old and must pass a swim test and complete a lifeguard-certification class. Certification classes are offered by various organizations including the American Red Cross and the YMCA. Some pools, like the Willow Grove Swim Club and Shackamaxon Country Club, which contracts lifeguards from Loeffler Pools, offer their own training courses for employees.
Alex Taner, vice president of the Willow Grove Swim Club in Scotch Plains, said the facility offers a certification course at the beginning of the season and another at the end of the season to “replenish due to lifeguards leaving and going back to college.”
The price of Loeffler Pools’ certification courses depends on the instructor who is teaching, said Spenser Brenn, the manager of Shackamaxon pool in Scotch Plains. Loeffler Pools offers certification courses at reduced prices for employees, which usually cost between $180 and $220.
However, not all pools can hold their own trainings, so lifeguards have to find another way to get certified. Ms. Infantino said certification courses are usually only offered a few times a year, so it can be difficult for aspiring lifeguards to even find a certification class.
The minimum wage for seasonal workers, including lifeguards, in New Jersey currently is $12.93 an hour. Wages for seasonal workers are gradually being increased each year until they reach $15 an hour in 2026. In Union County, newer lifeguards generally earn between $14 and $15 an hour, while more experienced lifeguards earn upwards of $18 an hour.