- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

HOLSTEIN, Iowa (AP) - Donna Bremer recalls a time some two decades ago when lifeguarding at the Holstein pool was one of the most sought-after summer jobs for teens.

“It was a much better job than detasseling and paid better than babysitting,” said Bremer, who has been a lifeguard at the pool intermittently for 27 years, the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/1GuqNJD ) reported.

Bremer, today the pool manager, says the number of lifeguard applicants has gradually declined.

Bremer said the pool started the 2015 season with four full-time lifeguards, including herself, and one part-time lifeguard. In a normal year, she aims to have seven full-time lifeguards.

Like Holstein, population 1,409, outdoor pools in some other small Siouxland cities are facing similar challenges. With too few lifeguards, some municipal pools are cutting hours or the length of the season.

Local officials attribute dwindling applications to a number of factors, including lifeguard wages that are lower than some other jobs available to youths, the out-of-pocket expense of taking lifeguard certification courses and conflicts with high school sports, family vacations and other activities.

The Haskell Pool in Moville, Iowa, hired 10 lifeguards this season, about five to six short of an average staff, City Clerk Jackie Stender said. As a result, at the start of the season, the pool had to reduce its Monday through Saturday hours, closing at 5 p.m. daily rather than 8 p.m. as before.

The Moville City Council recently voted to expand the Monday through Saturday hours to noon to 6 p.m. The pool is open from 1 to 8 p.m. Sundays to promote family swim time that was lost when hours were cut, Stender said.

She said the pool requires a minimum of five lifeguards. Two are assigned to a large waterslide. If one absence can’t be filled, Stender said, the slide may have to shut down for the day.

Stender said since the pool opened May 26, each shift has been fully staffed, as lifeguards can cover shifts on short notice, but the risk of absences increases as employees participate in high school softball and go on family trips.

The growing challenge of recruiting lifeguard candidates isn’t limited only to smaller cities.

Eric Griffith, recreation supervisor for Sioux City Parks and Recreation, said of the city’s five pools, only Leif Erikson started the 2015 season with more lifeguards than the previous year.

A decline in lifeguard applications is a trend Griffith has noticed for at least seven years.

“We’re asking them to work just eight to 10 weeks, where they could go work all year-round,” he said. “It’s like we’re open, then we’re done.”

Griffith points to wages, training requirements, certification costs and a shortened outdoor season as reasons why fewer lifeguards are applying.

Under an exemption in labor law, pools and other employers are allowed to pay seasonal workers like lifeguards less than the federal minimum wage of $7.35 an hour. To qualify, employers must be closed five or more months per year or make two-thirds of its income in half the year, said Ed Wallace, deputy director for Iowa Workforce Development.

Bremer, an American Red Cross-certified lifeguard instructor, said lower wages could be playing a role in fewer people wanting to train as lifeguards.

Bremer said her lifeguards at Holstein start below the minimum wage, while her most experienced make $9 an hour.

First-year lifeguards at Moville and at the Loring Aquatic & Fitness Center in Kingsley, Iowa, also make below minimum wage, but returning employees are eligible for a bump in their hourly pay, according to pool managers.

The Correctionville City Council on Monday voted to increase lifeguard pay from $6 to $7.50 per hour. Deputy city clerk Carla Mathers said the increase could lead to budget cuts in other areas of the pool.

Pool officials are taking other steps to curb the decline, using social media and other means to recruit and maintain a workforce.

Mathers said social media have been successfully used to reach a digitally connected group of teenagers for the Correctionville pool.

Stender has also used Facebook and has talked to students in her son’s freshman high school class.

“I’ve found it has to be social media or face to face,” she said.

Griffith said returning lifeguards are offered a referral program. If he or she can get a friend or two to join the force, a gift certificate is awarded.

Pools also rely on word of mouth to recruit new swimmers. Brittni Porach, a second-year lifeguard at Riverside Pool in Sioux City, began lifeguarding after hearing about positive experiences from friends who had done it. She said she has passed her firsthand experience as a lifeguard on to other friends looking for a summer job.

“I have mentioned before to people that have been looking that lifeguarding is a great thing to do,” she said. “Word of mouth is the best way to do it.”

Porach said the chance to be outside, work with friends and help kids in need outweighs the pay.

“It’s very rewarding to work with the kids, and it’s fun because we get to be outside,” she said. “I don’t care so much about the money.”

Stender said it’s not too late for lifeguards to sign up for this summer. Those who do, she said, usually find a rewarding, enjoyable summer job.

“It’s a fun job,” she said. “It’s relatively short hours, you get to work outside and don’t have to work nights.”

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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