As Atlantic City scrambles, other beach towns shore up lifeguard rosters
Earlier this week, Atlantic City announced it would hold its first lifeguard tryouts in three years, to try and combat a potential shortage for the summer of 2016. And while other beaches up and down the Jersey Shore may not be feeling that crunch, officials in those towns have their theories as to why the gambling resort has rolled snake eyes so far this year.
For towns like Cape May, social media has been a key part of the outreach as supervisors work to fill out a roster.
"I suppose like most other organizations, and all of society, we have started to use social media," said Lt. Geoff Rife with Cape May Beach Patrol. He said his staff also continues to communicate by more traditional means: putting up flyers in local high schools and colleges, maintaining an updated website year-round, and of course, word of mouth.
Rife is just now reviewing last year's squad to determine who is likely to return in 2016. He said a rookie test scheduled for this Saturday should yield eight to 10 potential new hires, but the status of returnees depends on prior lifeguards graduating college and entering the full-time workforce, or starting families. Still, he expects no staffing problems.
Harvey Cedars, where the turnout this year was termed "average," has also taken a social media-centric approach.
"A lot of people have no clue when we're hiring or when our swim tests are, so we've seen a little bit of a tick up from other years because people see it online," said Brian Devlin, Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol spokesman, who speculated that towns which are lacking right now may not be getting the word out as effectively.
Devlin said that rowing is a part of the Atlantic City swim test, and since that is a skill not all aspiring lifeguards have developed, the job description there may be a bit more daunting. And Rife made the point that Atlantic City provides many other diverse opportunities for teenage and young adult workers to earn money.
"Oftentimes, a young person who's trying to put themself through school finds it easier, financially, to get a job in the restaurants, especially in a resort town," Rife said.
For Dean Albanese, chief lifeguard with Jenkinson's Beach Patrol in Point Pleasant Beach, a large portion of his lifeguards still comes from direct recruitment at local high schools, in Point Pleasant and neighboring Brick. He is also well-staffed for the summer, but is constantly on the lookout not only for guards -- who ideally will work four to five years at Jenkinson's -- but also teachers, who in many cases are ex-lifeguards that stay affiliated with the beach to train new members.
Rife said beach lifeguarding is much different from overseeing a pool or a private lake or club. Beach lifeguards must have the right personality to handle the "rigors" of the job. Above all, they must be strong athletes, qualified as runners, swimmers and rowers. And in Atlantic City this year, for whatever reason, those candidates have been harder to come by.
Patrick Lavery anchors and produces newscasts across all dayparts for New Jersey 101.5. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.