COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – As lifeguard shortages continue to spread across the country, the effects are being felt in Columbus as pools are scrambling to find more staff ahead of the summer. 

Tera Wilkins is the Association Aquatics Director for the YMCA of Columbus, Ga. and she said she is missing about 12 lifeguards for the upcoming season. Due to the shortage, the current staff is working overtime to compensate for labor shortages.

“We’re competing with your Target’s and Chick-fil-a’s that are paying $15-16 an hour comparatively and we’re just not there yet,” said Wilkins. 

Wilkins said the shortage became evident last year after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has to have multiple guards on duty during aquatics classes and summer camps to adhere with requirements. She has created incentives to keep all her staff as summer approaches. 

“We have to have multiple guards for that because a lot of the emergencies that have been happening are more medical emergencies other than drownings. That has taken a higher risk,” said Wilkins. 

She said all lifeguards have to go through a week-long training that tests participants’ agility with swimming tests and provides them with different certifications like a CPR certification. 

The YMCA also has a partnership with Central High School in Phenix City that includes paying for the certifications students would need to become lifeguards. Brookelyn Bedford was one of those students and has been working at John P. Thayer YMCA for several months. 

“I always knew that when I grew up I wanted to be a doctor of some kind so this is kind of like a first step for me; getting CPR certified, AED stuff, first aid training. It’s hands-on and I feel like it’s preparing me for my future,” said Bedford. 

Bedford said aside from the training that are lifelong skills, one of the biggest benefits is having a flexible schedule for a student like herself. She works approximately 15 to 20 hours a week and it allows her to also go to school. 

Bedford and the other lifeguards are also responsible for testing the water and chlorine levels to ensure they are safe for the community. 

Wilkins said the next lifeguard class will take place in July, anyone interested can apply at columbusymca.com and click on the “Careers” tab.