Filling the pool

Girl on water slide at Mt. Lebanon pool.
Photo by John Schisler

The Mt. Lebanon Swim Center is on track for opening day, Saturday, May 27. Assistant Recreation Director Tim Ishman has started the annual search for qualified people to staff the pool. Finding lifeguards is always a challenge, but finding pool supervisors to oversee them is tougher.

“The Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club is a huge resource for getting our lifeguards,” said Ishman. “They’re a great group to work with.”

Ishman says the club puts the word out to its members and that typically yields about 20 to 30 lifeguards a season, which is a good start, but well short of the 80 or so lifeguards required for full pool operation.

“We need guards,” Ishman said. “We’re hiring all season long. You don’t have to be on the swim team. You just have to pass the course and want to work.”

Lifeguarding is more than  just sitting in a chair, twirling a whistle and getting a tan. “The job comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility, and that’s something employers look for. “If you have ‘lifeguard’ on your resume, that’s something to emphasize when you are interviewing for an internship or a job.”

Plus, if you’re a Mt. Lebanon High School student, you’re spending the summer around your friends, with a decent-paying ($13-$15 per hour) job you can most likely walk to.

“If you have ‘lifeguard’ on your resume,
that’s something employers are going to notice.”

Guards will always be in demand at the swim center. Even more in demand are pool supervisors. The pandemic created yet another supply chain issue—pool supervisors recently
have come from the lifeguard ranks, and the closing of the pool in 2020 created a leadership vacuum.

Lifeguards are required to have child abuse clearances—which can take a few weeks to obtain—certification in first aid and CPR, and must pass the American Red Cross lifeguard training course. Minimally, a pool supervisor must have all of those certifications, plus three years’ experience as a lifeguard, including at least two years in a supervisory role. Being a certified pool operator, possessing an Allegheny County Bathing Place Manager certification and a pesticide license is desired but not required.

“If you start as a guard when you’re 15 or 16, work at it for a couple of summers and get familiar with how the pool operates, you’re ready for the next step,” said Ishman. “If one puts their mind to it and gets the additional certifications, an aggressive 18- or 19-year-old can be making close to $20 an hour,” Ishman said. “Not bad for a summer job.

“Over the past two seasons, our lifeguard pipeline has been strong,” said Ishman, “but we may have to consider going outside of our system to find some qualified supervisors, and if we do, that could give us some breathing space as we continue to develop from within.”

“This would be a great job for a teacher, or some other education professional, or maybe a graduate student,” said Ishman.

As the summer begins to wrap up, crunch time comes about the middle of August, when college students move back to campus, and high school students either go on family vacations, start school extracurriculars, or just want to enjoy the last days of summer. This is when staffing becomes most challenging,
Ishman says.

“Operationally, we look to stay open through Labor Day,” Ishman said. “If I can find a few supervisors who will be around the full season, we can ride out the last three weeks.”