Public pools forced to close as staff shortages worsen

Public pools are being forced to close at short notice as staff shortages worsen.

It's been an ongoing issue for years, and now recruitment drives are underway nationwide.

Auckland's West Wave is one of the country's biggest public pools.

But full-time lifeguard Paul Yu said he's still having to work extra hours.

"Just because I want to keep this place open and other places open, I've picked up more shifts and, yes, sometimes when it's desperately needed, yes, I do come in."

Staff shortages have been bubbling away at public pools for years.

Prolonged closures during Covid lockdowns meant many workers left the industry.

But some think it's getting worse and worse.

"I feel like it is," said West Wave's Centre Manager, Sarah Clarke. "We are seeing shortages across fitness, learn-to-swim, customer support, so it's across the board in our facility."

Recreation Aotearoa chief executive, Sarah Murray, said the industry's heavily influenced by what's going on in the employment market.

"We're competing with a whole lot of other sectors: hospitality, tourism."

Many of those industries are also trying to build back up after the pandemic.

"We're seeing pools having to partially or fully close while they recruit for new staff," she said. "We're seeing things like summer pools having to close their season early… a good example of that is the Arrowtown Pool."

Some are launching recruitment campaigns and promising better pay.

"In some cases, we're seeing pool providers move the pay scales for lifeguards and move roles up to the living wage and beyond," Murray said.

While West Wave had to reduce its hours for several months last year, the pool hasn't had to close.

Across Auckland Council's pool network, there are around 60 lifeguard vacancies.

"I think we could probably look at the demographics we're going to," Clarke said. "It's not just a uni student, school student job.

"I think for those who are maybe into semi-retirement or looking for just a change, and maybe a slower pace from corporate, we have had those staff come in and actually really enjoy being able to give back to the community."


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