The city needs 50 more people to dive into a job as a lifeguard to keep its pools running at full capacity this summer.
A lifeguard shortage already has forced the city to cut pool hours and limit access to some pool areas as swimming season begins.
While all of the city’s nine pools will be open, some will close earlier than usual, cancel after-hours rentals or limit access to wading pools and diving areas.
Pool staff also will have to limit admission during peak hours if too many people want to swim. Those limits have been used before, but usually only on the hottest, busiest weekends of the year.
High school and college students often fill out the lifeguard ranks each summer, but the city hasn’t been able to attract as many teens this summer despite recruitment efforts, said Terri Stroupe, the city’s aquatics director.
“We’ve been kind of limping along,” she said, adding that shortages are a problem in other cities across the country.
Lifeguards must be 15 years old and certified by the Red Cross. The city offers free classes to those who agree to work at least 155 hours during the summer. A starting lifeguard makes $8.25 an hour.
The city will adjust its pool hours again if more lifeguards are hired.
Stroupe said a variety of reasons may be responsible for the decline: a lack of interest in lifeguarding; more opportunities in other sectors; and higher pay rates elsewhere.
“I think as our city is growing. We’re competing with other kinds of jobs,” she said.
Cathey Ector, youth services coordinator for Raleigh, said teenagers who are not experienced swimmers might not want to take on the responsibility of lifeguarding or realize they will get extensive training to make them more comfortable. Others might be looking for a different atmosphere, one they think is more likely to launch a career.
The Raleigh Summer Youth Employment program, which places teenagers age 15 to 18 in jobs as office staff, light laborers, staff assistants and recreation counselors, had hundreds more applicants this year than the program can accommodate, Ector said.
“I get so many kids who are so talented today, who are involved in so many things,” she said.
Emma Frankel, 20, who has been a lifeguard at Raleigh’s Optimist Pool near North Hills since 2010, said lifeguarding has taught her responsibility and how to handle difficult situations. She hopes more of her peers will at least give it a try.
“You have to be trained, knowledgeable and ready,” she said.