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Study shows aquatic centres struggling to recruit and retain lifeguards

Study shows aquatic centres struggling to recruit and retain lifeguards
April 19, 2021

Aquatic centres across Australia are struggling to find adequate numbers of lifeguards to meet facility needs with a newly published study also showing that facilities are experiencing a high turnover of lifeguarding staff.

The study, Lifeguard turnover in aquatic and recreation centres: Perspectives from managers, published in the latest issue of the Australian Journal of Career Development, set out to gain perspectives on the expensive and disruptive impact of high employee turnover of lifeguards in aquatic and recreation facilities.

Noting Royal Life Saving - Western Australia’s 2019 study that found that the industry is experiencing “unprecedented levels of lifeguard turnover”, the new study revealed widespread issues in the employment of adequate numbers of lifeguards to meet the industry’s needs.

Through a series of semi-structured interviews, the authors - PhD Student, Michael Butson; John Tower, Managing Director at JRT Leisure and an Honorary Research Fellow at Victoria University and Professor Eric C Schwarz, Senior Lecturer in Sport Management at Victoria University - found that lifeguards leave employment in aquatic centres for four main reasons:

Lifeguarding being a temporary position
With lifeguarding not seen as a career, but rather a stepping-stone into other positions. 

Negative working environments
Considered monotonous and unappealing, while negative organisational cultures was cited as an additional reason for lifeguard turnover. 

To seek employment in a higher paying lifeguard position, and 

A particular concern in rural and regional facilities.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the research, was the rather unstructured approach to lifeguard recruitment with lead author and chief investigator, Michael Butson explaining “lifeguards are key staff to maintain the safety of people at aquatic and recreation centres, but their recruitment left out some of the important steps when appointing new staff. There is scope to be much more thorough when recruiting lifeguard staff, such as a realistic job preview.”

Recruitment and Retention Strategies - the three Rs
The study goes on to suggest that “if (aquatic centre) managers are to redress the shortage of lifeguards in the aquatics industry, they need to consider adopting retention strategies as part of their overall human resources framework. 

“While there is no single solution to overcome the current situation in the aquatics industry, aquatic and recreation centre management could consider how each of the three Rs of employee retention (i.e., respect, recognition, and reward) can be implemented. 

“One comprehensive lifeguard recruitment and retention strategy has been developed to assist aquatic and recreation centres in overcoming a shortage of lifeguards (MacMillan, 2008). The strategy includes:

• Completing a detailed and systematic job analysis to determine the needs of the aquatic and recreation centre;
• Designing an effective lifeguard in-service training program;
• Developing an effective marketing plan that considers wages, incentives, and professional development opportunities;
• Implementing an employee benefits program to increase motivation; these can be either monetary and/or nonmonetary.

Together with these strategies, aquatic and recreation centre managers must give new lifeguards a realistic job preview (RJP). RJP can be utilised to lower job candidates’ expectations and better match expectations with the reality in the job (Baur, Buckley, Bagdasarov, & Dharmasiri, 2014). 

In line with the Expectancy-Confirmation Theory, an RJP will assist job candidates to determine if the organisation can meet their needs and expectations into the future (Jiang & Klein, 2009). In turn, reducing negative behaviours such as turnover intention. An RJP increases motivation and decreases turnover because employees have realistic expectations of both the positive aspects and challenges of the position. 

An effective RJP should include (Schroth, 2019):

• Essential job roles and responsibilities;
• Expectations for hours worked and working conditions;
• Top positive and negative features associated with performing the job;
• Top positive and negative features of working for the organisation;
• Culture, growth, and career path.

In March, Swim Australia advised of a shortage of swim teachers, estimating a need for at least 2000 swimming teachers across the country.

Click here for more information on the study, Lifeguard turnover in aquatic and recreation centres: Perspectives from managers, published in the latest issue of the Australian Journal of Career Development.

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