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City of Nanaimo’s parks and rec scheduling suffering from staff shortages

High costs of Island living hinder recruitment for lifeguard and aquatic instructor jobs
Nanaimo’s parks and recreation department is having difficulty filling positions for lifeguard and aquatic program instructors, citing costs of living in Nanaimo and demand for greater flexibility in work hours and job tasks from potential workers. (News Bulletin file photo)

A shortage of staff and difficulty recruiting seasonal workers is making it tough for the City of Nanaimo to schedule some activity programs, especially in the aquatics department.

Parks and rec has run afoul of a hangover from the COVID-19 pandemic that businesses, industries and municipalities continue to struggle with. Parks and rec aquatic programs have been especially difficult to schedule for the spring and summer sessions due to a lack of lifeguards and instructors and because of that some programs, such as the aquatic fitness program schedule, have not been included in the spring-summer parks and recreation activity guide, prompting speculation among participants that the program has been cancelled.

Kathy Gonzales, aquatics manager, and Richard Harding, general manager of parks, recreation and culture, confirmed no aquatic programs have been cancelled.

“Despite information travelling through the community, aquatic fitness classes have not been cancelled outright nor are they the casualty of funding cuts,” Gonzales said in an e-mail, adding that that information was shared with program participants.

The aquafit schedule is still being determined for April to August as staff look at solutions to provide more consistency instead of day-to-day cancellations participants have been experiencing. Spring and summer aquafit classes aren’t in the new activity guide because staff are “working on alternative options that may look different from the the program’s previous schedule.”

Gonzales said the city has job postings that are open until suitable candidates are found. There are also openings for people who want to work part-time. There are several full-time lifeguard positions available that the city has been unable to fill and management is seeing a trend toward employees wanting more flexibility in the number of hours, days of the week, times of days and tasks they’re willing to work.

“As applications are coming in, we’re essentially just doing interviews as soon as we get them … we have job postings in the lobby at the [Nanaimo Aquatic Centre],” Gonzales said. “We’re working with the [B.C. Recreation and Parks Association] … because it’s not just us, the city’s not the only organization experiencing the shortage – to try and recruit, try and find opportunities and progress for training.”

But newly hired lifeguards need orientation time, on-the-job lifeguard training and more time and higher skill level training to learn how to teach aquatic fitness.

Staff must be at least 16 to work as lifeguards. Most are 16 to 24, but go to school, which limits their daytime availability and many students also choose to return home in other communities for the summer to reduce living expenses and save for their next year of education.

Cost of living and housing on the Island are also high, adding another challenge to recruiting new staff from outside the region.

Gonzales’s department has connected with local high schools and Vancouver Island University, offering lifeguard training sessions and, hopefully, driving interest to fill lifeguard positions. Twenty-four students were put through lifeguard training through spring break.

“So, we’re hoping we get some out of that, but unfortunately a lot of them are 15, so we can’t use [them] until they turn 16,” the aquatics manager said.

While she was able to talk about specific challenges facing her department, she said staffing issues have impacted programs throughout parks and rec.

“They’re having an impact with programming across the board,” she said. “They’ve just started their summer recruitment for summer camp leaders and, so far, it’s looking good. Last year we had a lot of troubles getting enough people to run our summer camps programs, but hopefully, this year we’re seeing a shift back to people wanting to work more.”

In spite of best efforts to hire lifeguards and instructors, there’s still a possibility the spring will start without aquafit instruction if those positions can’t be filled, but workout plans, equipment and pool space will be available for people who want to maintain their workout schedules.

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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