West Vancouver creates free lifeguard training program to address acute shortage

·3 min read
Popular Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver, B.C., is one of the sites where a shortage of lifeguards has led the district to create a free lifeguard and swimming instructor training program.   (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)
Popular Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver, B.C., is one of the sites where a shortage of lifeguards has led the district to create a free lifeguard and swimming instructor training program. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)

With dozens of vacant lifeguard jobs and big summer crowds about to descend on Ambleside and Dundarave beaches, the District of West Vancouver is tackling its shortage of qualified people by offering free lifeguard training worth close to $1,000.

The program will also give graduates excellent prospects of landing a job that pays almost $28 per hour.

According to the senior manager of community services, the new Lifeguard Recruitment Program is unique in British Columbia, born of urgent necessity and the realization that earning the credentials to work as a lifeguard and swimming instructor can be cost-prohibitive.

"Right now, our current staffing is 32 lifeguards where normally we would be close to 100 lifeguards at this time of the year because we have to open two beaches, as well as staff our pool and swimming lessons," said Jill Lawlor. "The idea is to break down barriers ... to get [lifeguards] trained quickly and on our beaches and pool deck."

WATCH | Canada sees shortage of lifeguards following pandemic closure of pools

West Vancouver isn't alone in its acute lifeguard shortage. Shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic drained pools of qualified staff. Training and certification programs were also put on hold, effectively turning off the pipeline feeding new people into the sector.

According to Lawlor, West Vancouver's lifeguard recruitment program will see as many as 16 candidates put through two courses simultaneously to earn their National Lifeguard and Red Cross Water Safety Instructor certification. Both courses are typically offered separately for about $450 each.

Upon completion, successful graduates will be granted a job interview and an inside track to a job that pays $24.81 per hour plus 12 per cent in lieu of benefits.

Nathan Overgaard said earning such a wage would make him the envy of his friends. The 21-year-old Queens University biology student is home for the summer and needs a job to help cover next year's rent and tuition. He applied for the program after seeing an ad in the local paper.

Helen Pike/CBC
Helen Pike/CBC

"The fact that the training was free and so condensed was definitely appealing to me," he said. "I can get the training done more efficiently, and I'm able to apply for a job sooner."

Lawlor said the lifeguard shortage has been hard on existing staff and has even forced the unscheduled shutdown of the West Vancouver Aquatic Centre on occasion.

But more concerning, she said, is that the district can't meet the demand for swimming lessons without enough swimming instructors, potentially leaving a generation of children without basic water safety skills.

"Swimming lessons programs are selling out in less than five minutes," said Lawlor. "We're a waterfront community, and if people don't know how to swim, this is going to be a crisis in a few years."

As of Monday, 23 people had applied for the lifeguard training and recruitment program, according to Lawlor. It is open to those 16 and older with their bronze medallion, bronze cross and standard first aid/CPR-C.

Another 23 who are already fully certified have applied for lifeguard jobs after seeing coverage of the program in the local paper.

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