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While Laconia struggles to find lifeguards, Concord has more than enough 

  • Sebastian Johnston, 2, plays near the water at Weirs Beach as his father Johnathon watches his other son on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Johnston and his wife Courtney feel they can watch over their kids without a lifeguard but were concerned about all the kids in the water with no one watching.

  • Johnathon Johnston (center) watches over his sons Xavier, 10 months, and Sebastian, 2, as they play in the water at Weirs Beach on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Johnston and his wife Courtney feel they can watch over their kids without a lifeguard but were concerned about all the kids in the water with no one watching.

  • Even with the warning sign and no lifeguards on duty, Weirs Beach is still full of bathers on Wednesday, July 11, 2019.

  • Johnathon Johnston (center) watches over his sons Xavier, 10 months, and Sebastian, 2, as they play near the water at Weirs Beach on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Johnston and his wife Courtney feel they can watch over their kids without a lifeguard but were concerned about all the kids in the water with no one watching.

  • Johnathon and Courtney Johsnston keep a watchful eye on their children Xavier and Sebastian as they wade in the water at Weirs Beach on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. They are not concerned about watching their children without lifeguards but they did see that many children went swimming without supervision at the popular beach.

  • Sebastian Johnston, 2, plays near the water at Weirs Beach as his father Johnathon watches his other son on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Johnston and his wife Courtney feel they can watch over their kids without a lifeguard but were concerned about all the kids in the water with no one watching.

  • Xavier Johnston, 10 months, gets his first taste of sand and water at Weirs Beach under the watchful eye of his father on Wednesday, July 10, 2019.

  • Lifeguard Emily Mitchell keeps watch at Kimball pool on North State Street on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Kimball has three rotating lifeguards during the day.

  • Lifeguard Emily Mitchell keeps watch at Kimball pool on North State Street on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Kimball has three rotating lifeguards during the day.



Concord Monitor
Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The towering metal chairs on Weirs Beach in Laconia have sat empty since the waterfront opened in late June. Signs drilled to the back of chairs read “beach closed,” “no lifeguard on duty.”

It’s been a challenge to find people willing to be lifeguards in the city this year, said Amy Lovisek, the city’s parks and recreation director. Laconia was not able to fill any of the 14 open lifeguard positions available at any of its five beaches.

“This is the worst we’ve ever been,” Lovisek said of the lack of applicants for water safety jobs.

A shortage in lifeguards had been a growing state-wide issue in recent years. But depending on the area, it’s feast or famine. In Concord, the Parks and Recreation Department is having to turn some would-be lifeguards away because they had too many applicants.

“We are fully staffed and even have a solid on-call list,” said Laura Bryant, assistant director at the Concord Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s been a good summer for us.”

Bryant said there are now 48 lifeguards — all high school and college-aged students — employed with the city covering its seven public pools. This is a major change from last year, when Concord was also struggling to find employees.

Bryant said the Parks and Recreation Department started reaching out to previous employees back in November of last year and advertising for the positions online in February. They told their employees to reach out to friends about the positions, too. Last year, they set up a booth at Concord High School to try to spread the word about the jobs.

Because there are so many positions, employees are allowed some flexibility in their schedules.

“We are open seven days a week so we have a lot of flexibility — some do driver’s ed two nights a week and those are their days off, or they can pick and choose with what works best for them,” she said.

Bryant said shortages and abundances are part of a natural ebb and flow every few years as kids graduate from high school or college and move on.

But the problem statewide with finding lifeguards has surpassed normal turnover rates.

Lovisek said an issue might be the rising cost of lifeguard certification. Concord and Laconia just this year offered to reimburse lifeguards for the cost of attaining their certification — around $400 for a four-day class. But interested students have to pay for it in the first place — which can be hard for some. Concord’s median household income is $61,310 a year, compared to $52,702 in Laconia.

“It’s hard to come up with that $400 to start with, and we are trying to make that a little less of a pill to swallow,” she said.

Meghan Spaulding, director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Keene and president of the New Hampshire Recreation and Park Association, said there aren’t many other jobs for teens where they have to obtain a set of skills before they start work — and especially where they have to pay to do so out of their own pocket.

“It’s a required skill that you have to have and the cost of the is certification getting higher and higher,” Spaulding said. “I don’t know if the shortage is coming from kids paying $800 for driver’s ed and then not wanting to turn around and paying $400 for a certification, or what. I think it’s more kids want more money an hour to pay for college or cars.”

Spaulding said it can be hard for the city to compete with grocery stores, department stores, fast food places and other corporations. Keene just increased their hourly pay from $9 to $10 this year. Laconia pays $11 an hour.

Concord pays $10.89 an hour for first-year lifeguards. Swimming instructors start at $12.53.

Bryant said they have tried to increase the pay over the years to keep demand high. When she started in the Parks and Recreation Department 10 years ago, the pay was $7 or $8 dollars an hour. She said they will continue to try to keep competitive rates. In the meantime, she hopes the enjoyment that comes with being a lifeguard alone will encourage others to apply.

“Hopefully kids find being a lifeguard and being outside a little more attractive than serving fries at McDonalds,” Bryant said. “It depends on the student and what they are interested in doing.”