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Austin Tries to Head Off Another Lifeguard Shortage

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT
A lifeguard at the Northwest Park pool.

Last year, we met Redding McArdle outside Hyde Park’s Shipe Pool. The two-year-old wore blue arm floats and a bathing suit, but the gates to the pool were locked, and McArdle had a slightly dejected look on his face.

The delay in city pool openings was caused by a lifeguard shortage, and this year Austin is trying to avoid a similar delay. But, according to the Aquatics Office, the city's further behind in lifeguard hires than it was at this time last spring, with more than 600 spots on stands left to fill before pools open early June.

Cheryl Bolin, head of the city’s Aquatics department, says one challenge is that the city relies on high school students to fill more than 50 percent of their stands. And with school still in session, the mandatory 40-hour certification is hard to prioritize.

Students might also be chasing other summer jobs. Bolin said when the city recruits lifeguards, it has to compete with other employers, such as restaurants and fast food joints. “They do offer similar, in same cases, higher salaries, so individuals who want to stay inside might gravitate to that profession,” said Bolin.

This, combined with Austin's low unemployment rate and fast growth, means there are likely plenty of entry-level and service industry jobs for high schoolers to choose from.

Even if being a lifeguard is someone's dream job, higher salaries at another municipal pools could have applicants skipping Austin. Pay for Austin lifeguards ages 15 and 16 starts at $8.00 an hour, the starting pay for lifeguards in neighboring Round Rock and Pflugerville is $8.25 an hour. Pay for Austin lifeguards 17 and older in Austin starts at $10.25 an hour.

To avoid a repeat of last summer, the Austin Parks Foundation announced Thursday that it's offering $100 Visa gift cards to the first 500 lifeguards who sign up, go through the training and work the first week of the summer season. The city is also hosting hiring days at the Aquatic and Training Facility, where lifeguards-to-be can ask questions and register for training.

Last year, City Council asked that all pools open on the same day, requiring that nearly all lifeguards be ready to go at the same time—a demand the city was unable to meet. In past years, the city has opened its pools on a staggered schedule. Bolin said her department will propose a new schedule for pool openings this year.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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