Calgary

Shortage of staff leaves parents frustrated, kids without lessons at city pools

Calgary parents say they're frustrated by a ongoing shortage of available swimming lessons at City of Calgary facilities, and they're worried continued delays could mean missed opportunities, and a less water-savvy youth in the years ahead. 

Staffing for city aquatic programs currently at 65% of pre-COVID levels 

The city says a staffing shortage is to blame for reduced swimming lesson availability and pool hours being cut. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Darryl McCoy has tried to register his kids in swimming lessons at City of Calgary facilities at every opportunity over the last couple of years with little success. 

"It's been an absolute nightmare," he said. 

City pools were closed for good chunks of the pandemic, or limited their offerings, and now that things are moving back to pre-pandemic ways — classes are filling up almost as soon as they become available. 

McCoy says the city's computer system, which has scheduled and staggered registration at city pools, would fail every time he or his wife attempted to register their boys in swimming lessons in the last two years. 

'Crash every single time'

"It doesn't matter if my wife and I are both trying, we could have our cart ready and we're trying to process and it would crash every single time," he said, adding that a visit to a few local pools in the city's south resulted in long lineups with equally frustrated parents who were often turned away. 

In a statement to CBC News, the city acknowledged the issue.

"A lack of returning frontline staff, low response rates to job postings, and higher than normal attrition in a competitive market has left a gap in our ability to provide the level of facility access and programming Calgarians expect," said spokeswoman Amanda D'Silva. 

Darryl McCoy says there have been technical difficulties every time he's attempted to register his two young boys for swimming lessons at City of Calgary pools in the last few years. (Submitted by Darryl McCoy)

McCoy's kids finally were registered in lessons recently — but only because he recorded his attempt to register online, and then persistently complained to the city when the website once again booted him from the queue.

"I had to put up quite the fight. I actually had to phone them like 300 times to get through and finally be able to tell them that I was one of the first in the line," he said.

City increasing training

After seeing McCoy's video proof, the city official he spoke with pulled some strings. 

"They realized that it was their error and they registered my son into the course," he said. "And they said they would hire another a swim instructor for that class to make sure that my son was still able to participate."

The city said the lack of available lifeguard training is making it more difficult to provide swimming and aquatic programming. 

"The city has increased certification/training opportunities at our facilities and is helping direct potential candidates to training opportunities offered by third-party providers," said D'Silva.

She said staffing for aquatic programs is currently at 65 per cent of what it was prior to the pandemic. 

'Terrified of the water'

Lessons for McCoy's eldest son begin next week — his first since the pandemic began.

His youngest son's first ever lessons recently wrapped up.

McCoy says he's glad to see him finally in the water, but the delay is evident. 

"He's terrified of the water. He doesn't want to swim, he's scared of it," he said. "He actually failed the lessons because he was so uncomfortable."

"That compared to our seven-year-old, who for the first four years of his life probably had six or seven swimming lessons and he's fine with the water, even with a two year absence of lessons, he has no fear."

Like many city facilities, Southland Leisure Centre's pool is operating under limited hours. (CBC)

What makes the situation even more frustrating for McCoy, a former swimming instructor himself, is the reduced hours at city pools.

"I would love to be able to go and teach my children how to swim. We've tried, but their availability that they're open is ridiculous," he said, using Southland Leisure Centre — where the pool is only open four days a week — as an example. 

Recruiting underway

McCoy says he's worried continued delays could mean missed opportunities, and a less water-savvy youth in the years ahead.

"I think it's a basic survival [skill] to learn how to swim and if they don't have that confidence in the water, they're going to miss out," he said. 

The city says it is actively recruiting positions for full service resumption and is retraining and re-certifying a generation of lifeguards.

"We understand the impact these reductions in service have for Calgarians and ask for your patience as we rebuild," said D'Silva.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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