'Full, full, full': parents left frustrated over lack of swimming lesson spots
Frustrated and left with few options – that's how many Winnipeg parents were feeling Tuesday after they couldn't get their kids into swimming lessons.
It was Winnipeg's leisure guide signup Tuesday morning, however, several parents took to social media to vent over a lack of swimming lesson spots.
"Full, full, full – all my options were full," said Lindsay Primmer, a mother of three. "I went basically back to scratch to everything on every single class and that was at 8:03 (a.m.)"
Primmer said even with multiple backup choices, all three of her kids under nine were shut out in three minutes.
"It's a life skill, I'm really concerned," Primmer said. "I have children that don't know how to swim."
Community services committee chair Coun. John Orlikow said there is still a shortage of lifeguards and instructors leading to fewer spots – a hangover from the pandemic.
"As we reopened, we quickly realized a lot of those lifeguards weren't coming back," Orlikow said.
He said many lifeguards found other jobs during pandemic lockdowns and layoffs. This also led to a shortage of swimming spaces last year and wading pool closures.
With federal money, the city is paying for training costs to boost the number of lifeguards, which was identified as a financial barrier.
Orlikow says around 70 new applicants are currently being trained.
Getting those people back in is going to take us a little time, so we ask for a little patience," Orlikow said. "But we are working as best we can to get those positions filled."
Lifesaving Society Manitoba said this is a North America-wide problem. The society is still trying to play catch up, as prior to the pandemic it trained 1,000 lifeguards and instructors annually.
"Those numbers just nosedived during the pandemic," said Christopher Love, the water smart and safety coordinator with the society, adding in 2022, they had about 900.
While the city shores up staff, there are private options for parents. However, those are more expensive.
"I don't have a few hundred dollars to spend on my children to teach them to swim," Primmer said.
On Tuesday, the city's executive policy committee voted on a budget amendment to add $150,000 for lifeguard recruitment and retention.
In a statement to CTV News, the city said there are currently 1,057 swimming lesson courses being offered this spring.
"In comparison, there were 2,118 courses completed in Spring 2019, 1,500 offered in Fall 2022, and 1,340 offered in Winter 2023," a spokesperson with the city said.
A graph showing the number of available swimming lessons in Winnipeg from Spring 2019 to Spring 2023
The city said 84 per cent of swimming lessons have been filled for spring 2023 and people are encouraged to still sign up for the lessons that are left.
The city also noted there are 255 instructors employed right now, with the goal to get up to 300 before summer operations.
"We continue to actively recruit, and every effort is being made to fill vacancies as quickly as possible. It’s anticipated that it will still take some time to return to full staffing levels and the restoration of services."
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