If you want to cool off on a hot day, you head to the local pool.
However, some pools in southeastern Minnesota may not be able to provide that service this summer — not if they can’t find people to supervise pool-goers, anyway.
On Wednesday, Byron put a post on social media desperately searching for lifeguards for its public pool this summer. The post claimed that unless it gets more lifeguards on staff, the city can’t open the pool.
City Administrator Mary Blair-Hoeft said finding people to apply has been an ongoing struggle.
“Every year for the last five years, we’ve received less and less applications,” Blair-Hoeft said.
This struggle isn’t exclusive to Byron. Spring Valley Parks and Recreation Director John Fenske said the public pool there is having “extreme difficulty” finding lifeguards.
The pool ordinarily has nine lifeguards for the summer, Fenske said, but so far only has four applicants. While that number is low, it’s still more than the single applicant Byron has so far.
According to both Blair-Hoeft and Fenske, there a multitude of reasons for the low number of applications. For one, there are time-consuming training requirements to be a lifeguard. According to the American Red Cross, a lifeguard needs to be over the age of 15 and have certification in first aid, CPR and lifeguarding.
That training can be time-consuming. Some potential applicants may be drawn to other opportunities. Meanwhile, job growth across Southeast Minnesota has led to more employment options for teenagers.
“There are so many jobs out there that it’s tough to find anyone to do this,” Fenske said. “Casey’s here in town is advertising for $10.50 an hour for checkout people. They can go there and if it rains … Casey’s is still open and they don’t lose their hours.”
Some businesses offer better pay, too. Blair-Hoeft said some parents have suggested raising lifeguards’ pay to attract more applicants, but that isn’t feasible because the city has set its budget.
In addition, if lifeguard pay is raised, other city positions would need pay raises, too, to comply with pay equity within the city’s organizational chart.
Pools in Kasson and Stewartville haven’t had problems finding help this summer.
In fact, the two towns have actually turned away potential lifeguards due to the number of applicants.
The pay in those cities is similar to Byron’s and Spring Valley’s. Angelie Hovey, an accounting clerk at Stewartville City Hall, said workplace culture and top-notch amenities may be the secret to Stewartville’s success.
“We have an aquatic center, so it’s just a really nice facility,” Hovey said.
Both Stewartville and Kasson have aquatic centers that feature slides, zero-depth play areas and diving boards. Byron’s and Spring Valley’s pools don’t quite stack up.
However, Byron and Spring Valley are trying to make up for shortcomings by offering employee perks. Blair-Hoeft said lifeguards in Byron can get free things such as clothes and swim gear, while Fenske said that Spring Valley recently raised the wages for their lifeguards.
The two are hoping to attract a late-spring bump in applications. Blair-Hoeft pointed out that it’s not unprecedented for people to wait until just before summer to start applying, as Byron had that exact scenario last year.
She also admitted that the late spring may have something to do with the low number of applications, as people may be thrown off by the fact that summer is just around the corner.
Regardless of the reasons, the two pools need help soon if residents are going to have a place to cool off this summer.
“We spend a lot of time and money prepping the pool, and we like to have a plan,” Blair-Hoeft said. “I need to know if I can have a pool. I can’t answer if the pool will be open right now.”