AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following a dismal year for hiring lifeguards, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department says it’s lifeguard hiring process is going well and it anticipates it will be able to open all of its pools this summer.
Last year, only 15 of 34 of the city’s pools opened at the beginning of June, KXAN previously reported. City staff said it was because of lifeguard shortages — an issue seen nationwide.
During a Parks and Recreation Board meeting last week, city staff said they need roughly 800 lifeguards to staff all the city pools. Traditionally around 200 carry over from the year prior, which means the City of Austin needs to onboard roughly 600 people every year.
The assistant director of the parks department said they have more people hired already this year than they did even at this time in 2019, when they were able to staff 850 lifeguards, a recent city-high.
“We have new pay rates that are very competitive within the Austin market so we are excited and anticipate that we’re going to be able to open up all the pools this year,” said Lucas Massie, assistant director, Austin Parks and Recreation Department. “We are on a better pace than in years past.”
Still, the city wants to hire roughly 650 more lifeguards before summer, Aaron Levine, the Aquatic supervisor for Austin’s Parks and Recreation said. That includes head lifeguards, supervisors, etc.
“We’re pretty on track with where we were for 2019 when we hired 850 lifeguards,” Levine said. “So we have some momentum building, and we’ve got some applications. Our applications are starting to grow and so we’re hopeful for this year that we’ll be back on track for that 2019 number.”
Massie and Levine credited the uptick to Austin City Council’s passing of a minimum wage increase. City employees now make a minimum of $20 hourly.
“What we have found is that the biggest jumps in employment for us coincide with hourly pay increases tied to living wage increases that were initiated by council,” said Massie. He noted they saw bumps in the number of lifeguards in 2017 and 2019 previously.
Staff also credited several changes made by the division to attract new lifeguards including getting rid of the fee for people to take trainings and adding a training completion bonus to help cover the costs of training.
The department is also working with the city’s Human Resources Department to make the application process more streamlined and are at high schools, colleges and other hiring fairs this spring.
“Last year lifeguards spent a lot of time organizing to ensure all pools would open on time and fully staffed in summer 2023. We successfully advocated for a $20 living wage, 13 new full-time lifeguards with full benefits, paid training, free lifeguard courses, free uniforms and summer bonuses. Those changes pushed by lifeguards are why all the pools will open this summer,” a member of the Lifeguards Union, said.
There’s a lifeguard hiring event on March 8 from 4-8 p.m. It’s at the Aquatic Office at 2818 San Gabriel Street.
You can apply to be a City of Austin lifeguard here.