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Quebec pools recruit Cubans, train retirees to address acute lifeguard shortage

The shortage of lifeguards that has plagued Quebec pools in recent years has some recruiters getting creative, turning to retired seniors and trained lifeguards from Cuba to fill vacant positions.

“There’s a shortage everywhere,” Denys Hamel, director of the Loisirs Montcalm community centre in Quebec City, told CBC. “It’s a fiasco.”

“We’ve had to cancel all swim classes for adults and seniors this fall,” said Hamel, whose community centre offers swim courses at the Lucien-Borne pool.

He said the winter session will likely be the same story.

“There’s no relief. Young people don’t want to do it anymore. It used to be high school students would take courses and become lifeguards, but it’s no longer the case,” Hamel said.

The Quebec branch of the Lifesaving Society said last summer the provincial labour shortage is to blame. Young people can afford to be choosier about part-time jobs that pay more and offer more flexible hours.

Reinforcements from Cuba

The shortage means recruiters like Richard Bernier, the CEO of the Quebec City-based Service de Sauveteurs, are looking elsewhere.

One of Bernier’s employees, originally from Cuba, suggested to him that members of Cuban swim teams might be interested in working as lifeguards here.

After looking into it, Bernier recruited three Cuban lifeguards who are arriving later this month to start a two-year contract to work full-time at various pools.

“They’ll work on Christmas Day, evenings, weekends. They’re here to make money, they’re not here to party. They’re the perfect candidates,” Bernier said.

Bernier said the Cubans are well-trained, and it will be easy for them to quickly get certified to work in Quebec.

He said if these three work out, he’ll bring in more recruits from Cuba.

Hamel said his pool is talking to Bernier’s company about possibly hiring some of the Cuban recruits in the future.

Seniors as saviours?

Hamel said older Quebecers may be the answer.

“What we need is retired people who are very good swimmers who are interested in trying that,” he said.

His pool started a class five years ago to train adults and seniors to be lifeguards.

So far, that class hasn’t been very popular, but Hamel said he wants to partner with one of the province’s largest seniors groups, the Fédération de l’Âge d’Or du Québec, to actively recruit seniors and retirees to work as lifeguards.

The Lifesaving Society did just that last summer, with a pilot project to recruit baby boomers as lifeguards.

Hamel said the challenge is that all pools in Quebec are facing the same problem, and he said they’ll all have to work together to come up with a solution.

“We’re in decline. We’re hitting bottom, and there’s no relief. We all have to work on a plan for the future,” he said.

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