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Austin is short lifeguards every year. One problem is the application process.

A lifeguard stands next to pool and a lifeguard stand with another lifeguard sitting in it
Michael Minasi
Austin needs at least 860 lifeguards to fully staff its 34 pools during the summer.

Austin consistently struggles to fully staff its public pools.

A report out last week from the city’s auditor suggests part of that struggle is due to an overly complicated — and unreliable — application process to become a lifeguard.

To fully staff its 34 pools, Austin Parks and Recreation says it needs at least 860 lifeguards during the summer. Shortages last year led to a delayed opening for some pools.

The report found more than 1,100 people applied over a nine-month period in 2021 and 2022, but the city hired just 650 lifeguards last year. Auditors suggested hundreds of those applications were improperly declined.

PARD uses its own application-tracking system in conjunction with the city’s job portal to hire lifeguards. The review by the auditor’s office found 93% of the people who were hired as lifeguards initially received a notification that they didn’t qualify.

Some of the 650 people who were hired didn't end up working for the city, the audit found.

“PARD reported some instances in which an applicant completed the entire hiring process but chose to never work a shift,” the audit said. “We found that as much as 10% of lifeguards hired in 2022 never worked any hours.”

The audit suggested PARD retool its application-tracking system, which has only been in use since last year, to improve its hiring process.

Austin isn't alone in its struggle. The labor market for lifeguards nationwide has dried up in recent years.

A report last year from the American Lifeguard Association found roughly a third of all public pools in places like New Orleans, Raleigh, N.C., and St. Louis, Mo., were also struggling to retain staff.

That shortage, the association warned, could extend into this year's swimming season.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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