Staff shortages could affect Edmonton pool hours, capacity limits: city
A province-wide labour shortage among lifeguards and swim instructors could make it harder to enjoy Edmonton's outdoor pools, according to the city.
Swimmers lined up outside Queen Elizabeth Pool before 6 a.m. Wednesday, eagerly awaiting the official start of outdoor swim season.
"We have such a short season, but being able to swim with the smell of the trees in the Kinsman, it's a real treat," said one swimmer.
"We swim indoors all winter and it's just a treat to get outside," said another.
The city said that summer treat may be limited this year as pools deal with staff shortages.
"With the pandemic, we just weren't getting people through the courses so there wasn't a large pool of people to draw from," said City of Edmonton Operations Supervisor Shauna Graham.
According to the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, Alberta is short 600 lifeguards. That impact is being felt across the province, said CEO Kelly Carter.
"What we are seeing is the impact more in rural Alberta, a lot more than urban Alberta, and of course those employers paying higher wages are attracting lifeguards a little bit easier," he said.
Certification requires about 110 hours of training and must be renewed every two years. That training takes about six months to a year in a condensed format, according to Carter.
"If we don't have lifeguards, obviously it impacts the accessibility for lane swims, for recreational opportunities and even for swimming lessons. And that contributes to the overall community health," he said.
The shortages are forcing pools across the province to make difficult decisions about hours and resources.
"We've been limiting how many people can swim so we can stay within the swimmer to lifeguard ratio. And there has been the odd day we have to shut early or open later," said Jamie Platz Family YMCA General Manager Heather Scherer.
The ratio of lifeguards to swimmers at YMCA locations is one lifeguard per 40 swimmers, said Scherer.
She added that across the four Edmonton locations, the YMCA is short about 100 staff members.
To help with the backlog, the YMCA is calling for support to cover the cost of training, which ranges from $700 to $1,500.
"If there were more grants out there to get more employees skilled, that would be amazing. The YMCA is a registered not-for-profit charity so we even do subsidize our members," said Scherer.
A spokesperson for the ministry of labour says prospective lifeguards can apply to two job grant programs (Canada-Alberta Job Grant and Transition to Employment Services) to cover part or all of their training.
Information on eligibility and how to apply is available online.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski.