Erie YMCAs postpone swimming lessons due to shortage of lifeguards, instructors

Anyone wanting to improve their backstroke or butterfly stroke at any of the YMCA of Greater Erie pools will have to wait for the leaves to change color before taking their next swim lesson.

A shortage of lifeguards and swimming instructors has forced the Y to delay the start of its fall swim classes until mid-October, said Tammy Roche, the Y’s vice president of marketing, communications and financial development. It also closes its pools at various times throughout the day , because there are not enough lifeguards available.

“We currently have 50 lifeguard openings and 50 swimming instructor openings at our three pool locations,” Roche said, referring to the Glenwood Park, Eastside Family and Downtown facilities. “Many of our summer employees have attended college or are back in high school, and we don’t have a pipeline of employees to fill those positions.”

The lack of lifeguards is not new. The Y, Presque Isle State Park, Waldameer Park & ​​Water World, and Splash Lagoon all struggled to hire lifeguards this summer, forcing them to keep some beaches, pools, or water slides closed on certain days.

Lack of lifeguards in summer:‘We definitely have a shortage’: Lifeguard shortages are impacting Erie-area beaches, pools and parks

As Presque Isle and Waldameer’s summer season draws to a close, the Y needs more lifeguards and swimming instructors as fall approaches. Two lifeguards are deployed when a facility’s pools are open and three when swimming lessons are scheduled.

“We usually resume our swimming lessons every year right after Labor Day,” Roche said. “But our water sports director said (25 August) we just don’t have enough lifeguards and instructors to fill the schedule.”

How many lifeguards are needed and why are they so hard to find?

As an example, Roche said the Glenwood Y 40 needs lifeguards and instructors to create a full schedule, although the same person can hold both jobs at different times. It was 12 on Tuesday.

Why is it so difficult to hire lifeguards and swimming instructors? One reason is that they need special certification before they can start work, a two-week lifesaving course that costs $225 for non-members.

“The course was a hindrance, so we’re now reimbursing them for the course and paying them for their time if they’re hired,” Roche said.

To apply for a position at Y, visit

“It’s not just lifeguards” that are needed

Certification is a barrier, but there are other reasons lifeguards have been difficult to hire. Expanded unemployment benefits and other pandemic-related government payments appear to have reduced the number of people willing to work in the service industry, said Nick Scott Sr., president of Scott Enterprises, which owns Splash Lagoon.

“It’s not just lifeguards. It was difficult to hire kitchen staff,” Scott said. “Not that many people are looking for work. … Going forward there has been a small spike in hiring.”

A masked Splash Lagoon lifeguard helps a customer at the water park on June 26, 2020.  Summit Township indoor water park struggled to hire lifeguards over the summer but is now fully staffed. [GREG WOHLFORD/ERIE TIMES-NEWS FILE]

Splash Lagoon employs around 75 lifeguards during the summer when it is normally open seven days a week. The indoor water park will employ about 55 lifeguards this fall as it is scheduled to be open Friday through Monday, Scott said.

“We’re fully booked now,” Scott said.

A timely decision:Splash Lagoon is one of Erie’s top tourist attractions; Why was it temporarily closed?

Erie Ys are trying bonuses and social media to attract workers

Like many other employers, Y has increased wages and benefits to attract potential job seekers. A lifeguard or swimming instructor can now make up to $14 an hour.

“What’s new is that employees are now eligible for benefits if they work 20 hours or more per week, less than they previously needed to do the job,” Roche said. “They also get accrued time off and paid leave that they didn’t get before.”

Current employees can earn bonuses for referring new employees to the Y, Roche said. The Y has also posted its job listings on social media including Snapchat and Facebook to reach teens and young adults.

But until more lifeguards and swimming instructors are hired, the Erie Ys will close their pools regularly throughout the day. They can’t open their pools without lifeguards like some fitness centers in the area do because the Y’s aquatic safety plan and standards don’t allow it, Roche said.

Members will receive emails each week with the adjusted pool hours.

“We try to be as open as possible,” Roche said.

Contact David Bruce at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.

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