Labour shortage forces service cuts at Saanich pools
A shortage of trained swimming instructors has forced the District of Saanich to cut the number of available swimming lessons at both of its aquatic centres.
"A shortage of staff has impacted our ability to offer the number of swimming lessons that are in demand by our community," said Saanich Commonwealth Place manager Jennifer Jakobsen.
"Swimming lessons are one of our most popular programs and we presently just don’t have enough aquatic staff to be able to meet the demand," she said.
Jakobsen says the staff shortage being experienced at SCP is a result of not enough qualified water safety workers. She says a significant number of staff are university students who have been unsure about a return to classes due to the pandemic.
"Some of them have had other opportunities arise at university that they didn’t think would be available and we understand that," said Jakobsen.
"The challenge is also because so many aquatic centres were closed for a long period during COVID," She said. "It eliminated the opportunity for young people to do the training to become lifeguards and water safety instructors."
Training difficulties during pandemic
Jakobsen says even though the pool at SCP has remained open for the majority of the pandemic, physical distancing protocols prevented the training of new aquatic staff.
"When we were open (during the pandemic) there were restrictions on how we we could offer those programs to train those people," she said.
"They couldn’t actually have physical contact with one another, so we are now at the point where we can train those people but it does take time."
Jakobsen says cancelling swimming programs at SCP has been a last resort. She says staff have looked at a number of options to keep as many spaces open for swimming lessons as possible.
"In some cases what they’ve done is they’ve taken classes that were for one family and invited them to come in in a setting where we have stations in the pool so one instructor helps multiple families," said Jakobsen.
"That way we can still offer them some form of a swimming lesson without having to completely cancel on them."
She says due to the shortage of swimming instructors, staff had no option but to cancel 30 percent of the 333 individual swimming lessons booked during the fall schedule.
A shortage of qualified lifeguards has also meant that staff have reduced the pool's operating hours most evenings.
Staff say that by scaling back the hours, the pool will be open for adequate lifeguard coverage during the busiest times of the day.
The hours the pool will be open have been reduced in the evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
"We’ve had to scale back (hours) to ensure we’ve got adequate guarding coverage on the pool deck throughout the busiest times of the day," said Jakobsen.
"I think the pool schedule for people who want to come in and do lengths – the impact is minimal. But the swimming lessons is the bigger impact for sure."
Jacobsen says they are waiting for direction from the Provincial Health Office regarding the relaxation of pandemic protocols. She says no longer being required to conduct swimming lessons with a physical distancing restriction would open more spaces.
"A return to traditional group lessons will allow us to accommodate more people in one session," said Jakobsen.
"From our perspective it's better to return to group lessons because we can have multiple children with one instructor."
Jakobsen says Saanich is currently taking applications for trained staff to fill the lifeguard and instructor vacancies. She says with training also underway, it's expected the aquatic centre at Saanich Commonwealth Place will return to full service in January 2022.
For information on the aquatic centres go to the Saanich website.