One-by-one, children leapt from a diving board into the chilly water at Shanklin Park Pool in Gosehn. Wes Rush, a new lifeguard this year, stood watch nearby.
Three other lifeguards took positions on seats ringing the pool, while a few more were stationed in the entrance to the facility as children and families celebrated the opening days of summer vacation.
Rush anticipates a good season.
“It’s really nice. I like being outside. I don’t like being stuck indoors. Pays pretty well too,” Rush said.
By “pays pretty well,” Rush said lifeguard wages at Shanklin Park are about $11 per hour. Not a bad first job for the NorthWood High School student who just completed his sophomore year. That is, considering minimum wage in Indiana is $7.25 an hour.
Lifeguarding seems lucrative now while the unemployment rate is low, the economy is strong, seasonal jobs are plentiful and demand is high to fill open positions, according Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University.
Hicks estimated lifeguards at some lakes are making about $15 per hour. He also noted one of his children started at $10 per hour as a new lifeguard last month.
“The competition is getting so much now for workers that the pools are now paying more and offering better conditions because they know a lifeguard, if things are bad, can hop jobs,” Hicks said.
Nearly 3,000 lifeguards were employed statewide in Indiana at a median wage of about $9.25 an hour in May 2018, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates. The data lumps lifeguards into a category with ski patrol and other protective service workers.
Broken down, the median hourly wage was $10.15 in the Elkhart–Goshen area; $9.79 in the Indianapolis–Carmel–Anderson area; $10.48 in the Terre Haute area; and $8.49 in non-metropolitan areas of southern Indiana, the data shows.
By comparison, the median hourly wage was $9.05 for combined food preparation and serving workers statewide; $9.02 for ushers, lobby attendants and ticket-takers statewide; and $9.62 for cashiers statewide in May 2018, BLS data shows.
Lifeguards at pools in Indiana state parks earn higher wages than other seasonal positions due to the level of skills and knowledge they need to acquire for the roles, said Ginger Murphy, deputy director of Indiana State Parks. Interpretive naturalists also make more money because of their skills.
The state’s ability to fill lifeguard positions can vary from park to park, depending in part on how close parks are to schools with swimming programs, Murphy said.
“We have great success with lifeguards in some locations, but [it’s] more challenging to find them in other locations,” Murphy said in an email.
Meanwhile, Holiday World in Santa Claus employs about 200 lifeguards and 100 slide attendants for the attraction’s “Splashin’ Safari” 40-acre water park, said spokeswoman Paula Werne.
Pay for the roles start between $8 and $9 per hour, and wages increase for returning workers and supervisors, she said.
Rush said he obtained his lifeguard certification earlier this year and did some lifeguarding work at NorthWood before taking the job at Shanklin Pool. He also became a certified water safety instructor, meaning he can teach swim lessons.
The instructor for that course also handles hiring for Shanklin Pool and recruited Rush to take a lifeguard position for the season, he said.
He’s one of about 15 lifeguards currently at the pool who are split into two groups to be on duty for shifts of approximately four hours during the week and weekends, Rush estimated. Hours and schedules can vary, and he said the pool is short-staffed so far.
Among the Shanklin Pool lifeguards is Aurora Flores, who knows she’s paid well.
“It’s more than enough for a high schooler,” Flores said.
As she prepares to graduate from Goshen High School Sunday, Flores now serves as an assistant manager. She is in her third season as a lifeguard.
Flores said the pool manager offered her the promotion, and she accepted, confident in her history as a responsible and trustworthy worker and team player.
Teens and young workers should start to take advantage of getting leadership training while there’s still a high demand to fill seasonal positions in different industries, Hicks said.
“This is a great year for teenagers to up their skills,” Hicks said. “This is a great time for young workers to demand more of their employers, not just the money, but come up right out front and say, ‘I want more out of this job than 10 bucks an hour. I want leadership, I want training.’”
For young teens taking their first jobs, seeking such opportunities now could pay off in a couple years, such as Flores’ situation in becoming an assistant manager at Shanklin Pool. She said she felt like she received good guidance in working up to a leadership role.
Lifeguards and other seasonal staff at state parks gain leadership experience through on-the-job training and advice from full-time staff, Murphy said.
State parks like Chain O’Lakes in Albion, Potato Creek near South Bend, Mounds near Anderson and Versailles in southern Indiana, employ approximately between 30 and 40 seasonal workers for positions that require weekend hours.
Several factors have combined to fuel demand for seasonal workers.
“With a low unemployment rate and a tightened labor market, workers who may have previously filled the gap in a seasonal job are more likely to be employed in full time, permanent positions. Employers may rely more heavily on younger workers who are interested in a seasonal job with more jobs to fill,” said Fran Valentine, senior director of research, analysis and engagement with the Indiana Workforce Development department.
With Indiana’s unemployment rate at about 3.6 % — down 7% since the Great Recession ended 10 years ago — more people are working full-time jobs, leaving more openings in part-time seasonal realms, Hicks pointed out.
Demand’ for labor is simply up, Hicks pointed out, and that affects the labor pool across the spectrum, even for jobs such as babysitting and lawn mowing.