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City on right path with lifeguard recruitment

While next summer may seem a long time away, the city of Medford is right to be concerned about lining up adequate lifeguard staffing.

While ongoing efforts to increase availability of housing in the area will have a long term positive impact on maintaining the workforce population in the city and surrounding areas, there are no quick fixes to the demographic cycle that is seeing rural Wisconsin getting older. What this means is the demand for workers to keep factories, restaurants and retail businesses going will not be dropping anytime soon.

This puts the city in the challenging role of needing to compete with other employers for quality summertime workers. When it comes to protecting the health and safety of swimmers using the pool, the city cannot settle for mediocre workers or those who have the mindset of simply punching a clock and getting a paycheck. Adding to this, the city is faced with regulatory restrictions with lifeguards having to undergo rigorous training and testing in order to hold the posts.

These factors contribute to making an already small pool of potential workers even smaller.

Last week, the city took a good first step in facing the increasing challenges of recruiting lifeguards. Rather than pointing fingers or coming up with excuses, the city is facing the issue head-on and aldermen appear willing to think creatively to ensure the city pool remains open and available to residents and visitors at the same levels as in the past.

Among the ideas proposed, a suggestion to hire instructors and sponsor classes for potential lifeguards is one that should be implemented quickly. At the same time, the city should also reach out to the school district about being a partner in these programs. The school is facing similar issues with needing lifeguards on staff and working together, rather than competing for the same pool of applicants, the city and school district could address both their needs.

The city council established a working committee to come up with suggestions about ways to increase recruitment and retention of lifeguards. Among the ideas the committee needs to look at are addressing how pool work days are handled when the management decision is made to close the pool due to weather or other causes. Currently those on staff who were scheduled to work do not receive any compensation for those days. The risk of losing a day’s pay based on circumstances out of your control is a real deterrent to some potential workers who need the income to pay for college expenses.

In addition, the city must also widen its net to include other nearby communities which have established high school swimming programs to encourage them to get the certification and to apply for lifeguard positions in Medford.

On a more subjective level, lifeguards are placed in often-time uncomfortable rule-enforcement situations. The city must cultivate an atmosphere where it is known that the full city council supports the lifeguards when it comes to dealing with disgruntled patrons unhappy with a decision that was made. Dealing with obnoxious and confrontational patrons is a major reason many people leave front-line and service-related positions and lifeguarding is no different. The city of Medford has made a good start just by being willing to talk about what it will take to ensure adequate staffing to meet community needs. As alderman Mike Bub noted at last week’s meeting, many of the potential changes are relatively low-cost items making it easier to move forward toward implementation.

Finding quality workers remains a challenge across all employment sectors. In order for the city to provide existing service levels, city leaders must be creative in making lifeguards sought after positions.