The closure of the city’s outdoor pool this summer is only part of the lifeguard shortage issue facing Nelson’s aquatic community, according to the general manager of community services with the RDCK.
Joe Chirico said there is a shortage of lifeguards in Nelson and across the regional district, and it has begun to affect the delivery of the service, both outdoors and indoors.
In Nelson and area, the primary centre for aquatic service is the Nelson and District Community Complex, and in the summer there is an expanded service at the outdoor Gyro Park Pool.
“Right now we don’t have enough lifeguards to offer the core service, which is the NDCC,” Chirico told city council Tuesday night during the committee-of-the-whole meeting. “The ironic part right now is that Gyro Park is the focus of consternation, the real issue is coming in the fall.”
In the fall aquatic centres lose lifeguards who are returning to school, Chirico stated.
“Come fall we may see our aquatic hours at the NDCC drop because of the fact that we have lost that pool of lifeguards,” he said.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay is working in all of its aquatic centres — Nelson, Creston and Castlegar — to increase the lifeguarding pool, Chirico said, but the risk of diminishing aquatic centre hours is looming.
Councillor Jesse Woodward asked if the shortage happened when the lifeguard training program was interrupted by the pandemic.
“Correct,” said Chirico.
“So we have a gap of not having trained lifeguards?” Woodward asked.
“I think it is a little more complicated than just COVID,” Chirico began. “There is a lack of human resources almost across all sectors.”
The primary issue is people aging out of the workforce, with more people retiring than people entering into the workforce.
“We can’t forget that where we are really short is in experienced guards, people choosing to make it a little bit more of a career than just the student kind of a job,” Chirico said.
With the B.C. minimum wage rising to $15.65 per hour, it now meets what the regional district pays a lifeguard, he explained, closing what used to be a $4-$5 per hour divide.
Mayor John Dooley asked what the strategy was for going forward with lifeguard recruitment and training in Nelson.
Right now the regional district is running lifeguard courses whether they financially break even or not, Chirico said, and treating them as training programs.
“Is there a confidence those folks will show up when you need them, like next summer?” asked Dooley.
“Is it going to be fixed by next summer? I don’t know. I know a lot of the people coming through right now are very young,” Chirico said.