Lifeguard recruiting and training streamlined

One of the biggest human resource challenges in running 20 top-notch public swimming pools is maintaining a complement of well-trained lifeguards.

A new, centralized approach to hiring, training and mentoring lifeguards is making that task a lot easier and more consistent, at the same time as it’s likely improving safety at the City of Edmonton’s indoor and outdoor pools.

There are about 250 lifeguards employed by the Community and Recreation Facilities Branch, and turnover is high, between 20 and 25 percent annually, says John Mervyn, a facility foreman and member of the branch’s four-person aquatic strategies team.

The turnover results from the fact that many lifeguards are part-timers, usually university students who tend to stay in their positions for four years, then leave for jobs more focused on their ultimate career path.

It used to be that each pool did its own hiring, which involved each facility manager posting the jobs, conducting interviews, completing all kinds of paperwork and doing both physical assessments and onboard training.

“We’ve centralized the hiring function in the aquatic strategies group, and we’re using the Grand Trunk pool as a training hub,” says John. “That frees up the pool foremen to manage their facility instead of being distracted by paperwork and sign-on procedures.”

The aquatic strategies group hires about 20 lifeguards every four to five weeks. They do all the paperwork, physical assessments and onboarding, which includes drug & alcohol awareness, dangerous goods, Enviso, violence in the workplace and City code of conduct training.

“We also put our experience – 20 years of teaching in John’s case – to good use by training and mentoring them at Grand Trunk. Because they are our only focus, we believe the 16 hours of pool training they get – on top of their existing certification training – notches up the safety factor,” says John.

“For example, they’ve been trained in classes with people like themselves – young, strong, average builds. They’ve practiced rescues on people that are, in a way, idealized. In our training, we can expose them to more realistic situations, such as the rescue of a 350-pound person.”

There’s an added benefit, as well. Centralized training means that pool deck procedures and safety rules are standardized. In the past, small differences could occur amongst the different pools, possibly posing a problem if a lifeguard was transferred to another pool.

The aquatic strategies group – led by Rob Campbell, with the support of John and Colleen Fecteau and others – created a Scanning, Supervision & Recognition course which teaches lifeguards patterns of watching the pool (one scan every 28 seconds), how to organize supervision when there are multiple lifeguards on duty, and how to recognize various kinds of behaviour of a person who is having trouble in the water.

They have recently revised a checklist showing the various functions that lifeguards can perform at a pool with different levels of training and certification.

They’re in the process of updating the safety and supervision plans for each facility, using a common template they developed that will prevent ambiguity or the use of different terminology. These documents are important to the lifeguards providing lifeguard patrol pathways for each specific facility.

In his travels amongst the pools, John also does spot checks on lifeguards’ procedures, offering them advice about best practices and some mentoring.

John Mervyn is part of the City of Edmonton’s aquatic strategies group that is part of an improved process for hiring, training and mentoring the City’s 250 lifeguards.
John Mervyn is part of the City of Edmonton’s aquatic strategies group that is part of an improved process for hiring, training and mentoring the City’s 250 lifeguards.