Cold winds may be blowing now but Joe Marten, aquatics supervisor for Wichita Parks and Recreation, knows that summer will be here before you know it and the hot summer days will bring kids to the city’s swimming pools.

When they get there, the pools will need to be staffed with lifeguards.  However, like urban pools across the country, Wichita struggled last year with employing enough lifeguards, to keep their pools open.  

Even in years when lifeguards were more plentiful, Wichita, and many other urban areas, struggled with hiring African-American lifeguards. That’s an issue that didn’t get past Reggie  Davidson, Supervisor of Recreation for the City of Wichita.  Davidson, who also serves on the City’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, is proactively reaching out to hire not just lifeguards, but a diverse pool of lifeguards. .  

Free Lifeguard Training  

This year, instead of just hiring certified lifeguards.  Applicants who are approved will get training for the Red Cross Lifeguard Certification free of charge. They will also be provided with any required ongoing training necessary to maintain their certification.

“Training lifeguards takes time, so we need to be getting started now,” Marten said. “We need young people 15 years old and older who have an interest in a good-paying summer job to think about applying to become a lifeguard.”

Applications are open now and can be made online. Just go to www.wichita.gov and search for “Aquatics.” An online application form is on the site.

Lack of Black Lifeguards 

The recent  shortage in lifeguards is due in part to the pandemic.  With training programs and swimming pools closed ahead of 2022’s summer swim season, the supply of trained lifeguards dried up.  However, the ongoing shortage is due to competition from other low-skill industries, such as fast-food restaurants, that have raised their pay.  

But, the shortage of Black lifeguards dates back even further and involves the shortage of Black youth that know how to swim.  Swimming lessons, including lifeguard training certification programs, can be expensive and offered at locations often difficult for young Black youth to reach.  

Davidson is hoping the free lifeguard certification training offered by the City will go a long way towards attracting applicants of color who are able to swim well enough to begin the certification program.Representation matters.  

Lifeguard Application process

The 2023 swim season in Wichita opens on Memorial Day, May 29. 

But Marten said the lifeguard training takes time, and a lot of work has to be done to get the pools ready to open.

“Our lifeguards help do the work of cleaning the pools and getting everything ready for the season,” he said.

For that reason, Marten said he will begin  interviewing and hiring new lifeguards within two or three weeks. His goal is to hold interviews in community recreation centers rather than have applicants come to City Hall.

Candidates for interviews will be chosen from online applications.