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Colorado aims to fight lifeguard shortage with new grant that promises increased wages, overtime pay

US communities face tough choices on opening public pools
Posted at 1:35 PM, Jun 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-21 23:46:00-04

DENVER – Colorado is hoping to get more teens to the pools this summer – and just not for a swim – as cities deal with a shortage of lifeguards and pool workers that is leading to shorter hours and opening delays across the state.

At a public swimming pool in Aurora Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis announced what his office called an “action plan” to open up more public swimming pools, expand hours during the summer months, and retain workers beyond the season. He was joined by Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, city councilmember Alison Coombs, as well as other officials from his cabinet.

The Pools Special Initiative 2022, as the grant program is called, will provide $350,000 in funding to cities affected by lifeguard and pool worker shortages in order to attract and keep public pool employees and allow these pools to operate at maximum capacity.

Polis hopes teens between the ages of 16 and 17 will be lured into the workforce by giving them not only a $1,000 stipend after successfully completing the training program and start working as lifeguards, but also increased pay and the ability to work up to 54 hours of overtime per week if they so desire.

The grant was made possible through a partnership between the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC), a spokesman for the governor’s office said.

"Spending the summer as a lifeguard is a great opportunity for teens to gain skills that will launch their journey into the workforce,” said Joe Barela, executive director of Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “We’re excited to be a part of this multi-agency effort to get more public pools open for longer hours all while creating valuable job opportunities for teens eager to start fun summer jobs.”

Communities interested in applying for the grant will have until Tuesday, June 28 at midnight to apply. Awardees will be announced on July 1. The grant is expected to expire at the end of September and local governments will be expected to report on the successful use and lessons learned during the funding period.

The CDLE will also jump in to provide workforce training and support recruitment efforts through their Reskilling, Upskilling, And Next-skilling Workers (RUN) grant, which will will enable teens to complete training to be certified as a lifeguard or receive other related skills in the field, such as CPR training.

Tuesday’s announcement comes more than year after several municipalities across the Front Range started reporting lifeguard shortages, due, in part, to the low wages these types of jobs usually pay.

In late May of this year, Denver Parks and Recreation announced six indoor public pools across the city would remain closed through the summer due to the worker shortages.