WICHITA — During a normal year, Brian Hill doesn’t have much trouble hiring enough lifeguards to staff Wichita’s six public swimming pools.

Not in this pandemic year.

“Usually I’m about 80% staffed by February,” said Hill, Wichita’s aquatics director. “This year, I was about 10% staffed.”

Lifeguarding took a hit last summer, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed most gyms, water parks and community pools. High school and college students who would normally work as guards took the summer off or found other jobs. Training classes were cancelled. So were junior lifeguard programs for 11- to 14-year-olds.

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“That’s our pipeline,” Hill said. “In a lot of ways, we were kind of starting this summer from scratch.”

Wichita is not alone.

Roeland Park in Johnson County recently spent $1.6 million to renovate its community aquatic center, adding new slides, a climbing wall, shade structures and splash pads. The grand opening was Memorial Day weekend.

But the pool will open for limited hours — only Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends — because there aren’t enough guards to staff it.

Roeland Park boosted lifeguard pay to $12 an hour, up from $10 an hour. Other cities offer signing bonuses and other perks or recruit younger teens.

Prairie Village cut back its pool hours this summer because of the shortage. So will the city of Shawnee in Johnson County.

About a dozen teenagers and young adults attended a recent lifeguard certification class at Northwest High School. Because of COVID-related closures last year, some pools are having a hard time finding enough lifeguards.

Shawnee County last month initially didn’t have sufficient lifeguards, but some new hires left it with “just enough” to staff its seven aquatics facilities at their full complement of hours, Shawnee County Parks and Recreation said in a civic alert posted Friday.

The American Lifeguard Association says lifeguard shortages are common across the country. The traditional summer job is more nostalgia than reality because teens and young adults increasingly look for year-round work.

COVID-related travel restrictions have limited the number of seasonal college and foreign exchange students. And overall interest in lifeguarding is declining.

Pools depend on guards returning year after year, and on younger swimmers envisioning themselves on the lifeguard stand.

“So much of it is kids growing up going to the pool every day,” said Joe Hutchinson, a high school swim coach who manages a private pool in east Wichita. “They see their older friends who are lifeguards, and they say, ‘I want to do that next summer,’ and then they start getting ready for that job and getting certified.

“Since there wasn’t the opportunity to see your friends be lifeguards last summer,” he said, “that new wave of lifeguards that normally fills in those empty spots just isn’t there.”

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It’s also hot-weather work that toggles between boredom and stress — part babysitting, part lifesaving. And it’s not for everybody.

“It can be very difficult to deal with people. That’s the hardest part,” said 18-year-old Jacob Steffen, who has worked at

People looking for work in West Northumberland are being offered places on a cut-price training courses with guaranteed jobs at the end.

As outdoor pools reopen on April 12, managers at Haltwhistle Swimming & Leisure Centre are looking to hire at least 14 new lifeguards.

And successful recruits will be offered subsidised training with formal qualifications before they start the role.

The week-long course, which will lead to a recognised Royal Life Saving Society UK qualification, would usually cost around £350 to attend, but it’s being “heavily subsidised” in a bid to “open up the opportunity to as many local people as possible, regardless of their financial situations”.

Training will cover a wide range of different areas, including water rescue, first aid skills and delivering CPR, as well as health and safety regulations and site-specific information about the Haltwhistle pool.

The week will end with a formal assessment, with jobs at the pool being guaranteed for all those who pass.

Applicants must be at least 16 and will have to complete a swimming competency test before beginning the course.

Maxine Wilson, manager at Haltwhistle Swimming & Leisure Centre, said: “Many of our former lifeguards have either had to find alternative work over the last year or are students who are either elsewhere or unavailable, so we’re looking to put a new team in place as quickly as we can.

“We need up to five lifeguards on duty at our busiest times of the year and having a fully qualified team of at least 14 people means we’ll always have enough lifeguards available to fulfil our responsibilities.

“We’ll be able to guarantee regular work through to September for anyone that successfully completes the training course, and as well as giving them the accreditation they need right now, it will also equip them with transferable skills that they can use in both future roles and everyday life.

“This sort of detailed, intensive training naturally comes at a cost, but the generous support we’ve had from Newcastle Building Society will make it much more widely accessible across our community and will open up new local employment opportunities that might otherwise have been out of reach for many.”

Funding for the subsidised courses has been provided by the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which offers grants to local charities and community groups.

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In the first part of 2021, the Society is directing its support to a range of employability and food poverty projects, helping communities recover from the impact of Covid-19.

Hannah Samuel, manager at Newcastle Building Society’s Hexham branch, said: “Haltwhistle Swimming & Leisure Centre is a real community asset and will have been greatly