Meet a Gen Z lifeguard getting a $1,000 bonus to fill a job that pools across the country desperately need

Meet a Gen Z lifeguard getting a $1,000 bonus to fill a job that pools across the country desperately need
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  • Many employers offered bonuses for lifeguards to ease their hiring troubles this summer.
  • One teen lifeguard said he's receiving a bonus and making $21 an hour.

Ben Kaplan, 17, is spending the summer swimming and sitting at the pool. And he's getting paid $21 an hour to do it.

Plus, like many US lifeguards this summer, he's taking home a signing bonus — an incentive that businesses across industries have presented to workers throughout the labor shortage. Later this summer, he could get another $500 retention bonus, bringing the total incentive to $1,000.

Kaplan said he "always loved swimming." The chance to work as a lifeguard for the Department of Conservation & Recreation in Massachusetts was an "opportunity to make money off of what I love to do," he added. He sees the bonus as "really appealing" and a good thing overall because the state needs "as many lifeguards as possible," he said.

Meet a Gen Z lifeguard getting a $1,000 bonus to fill a job that pools across the country desperately need
Ben Kaplan.Courtesy of Ben Kaplan

And it's not the only one. A May tweet from the Parks and Recreation department in Austin, Texas, mentioned a $1,250 bonus, and the city of Phoenix offered a $2,500 incentive. Charlottesville, Virginia joined the bandwagon, and Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York tweeted on June 22 that the state was increasing pay by up to 34% to deal with the labor shortage at its pools.

Pools across the country are experiencing a labor shortage, and some are cutting hours or temporarily closing as a result. The shortage is also affecting swim programs.


"The regional and national lifeguard shortage is real and our goal is to increase lifeguard coverage, incentivize qualified seasonal employees this summer and build a pipeline for year-round workers," Rosa Escareño, the general superintendent of the Chicago Park District, said in a statement.

The city recently increased the lifeguard bonus to $600 and is advertising a $500 referral bonus.

"We hope the retention and referral bonuses along with a path to permanent employment attract qualified candidates to support our" summer programming, Escareño added.

The bonuses seem to have been working for the waterfronts that need lifeguards in Massachusetts.

"We've been working hard on lifeguard recruitment really since last year," Stephanie Cooper, the acting commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, told Insider in an interview in May, adding that bonuses were "one of the tools that we are using," in addition to increasing pay.


"Because of that whole package, we have had a really good response in terms of applicants who have come to us," Cooper said.

Kaplan said he thought the bonuses may incentivize some young job seekers to become lifeguards.

"I feel like we're surrounded by all this culture, like there's all these videos on TikTok of, 'Oh, what's your salary?'" Kaplan said. "I feel that for a summer job, a signing bonus is a lot more impactful because that's just up front."

'The worst year' of the lifeguard shortage

Bernard J. Fisher II, the director of health and safety at the American Lifeguard Association, told Insider in May that this was the "worst year" he'd seen for the shortage of lifeguards. He added that the shortage started roughly 20 years ago.

He said during that time, "baby boomers were building more complexes that had swimming pools.


He added: "We were developing more beachfronts that required to have guarded beaches."

Additionally, he said the US was also relying on young workers.

"And we didn't have the numbers of the youth coming into our population as to the numbers of baby boomers that were retiring and building these complexes and building the developments," Fisher added.

Retirees and teachers are two groups of workers that could help with the shortage of lifeguards, according to Fisher. In general, there could be other pools of talent looking to work that could help employers experiencing the hiring difficulties — pools of talent that have historically been overlooked in the labor market.

"But the problem also is the wages that we have been paying the lifeguards," Fisher said.


"We strongly feel that it is a competitive industry just in general, the job market," Fisher said. "And we have to pay a good wage to individuals who are medical professionals, and incentives also are a good way to try to help overcome the shortage."

Fisher said the incentives, like signing and referral bonuses, should continue after this year.

Outside pools, teens, like Kaplan, are helping employers address the labor shortage, according to the economist of Gusto, a payroll and human-resources platform for small and medium-size businesses.

"On Gusto's platform, we're seeing teenage workers continue to step in and fill the gap during this economic recovery and be an attractive alternative source of workers for businesses who are struggling to navigate an unprecedentedly tight labor market," Luke Pardue, Gusto's economist, previously said in a statement to Insider.

According to the American Lifeguard Association, roughly one-third of pools could be closed or see reduced hours, a negative effect on communities across the country.


"I think we need to get the mentality that this is a major benefit to society, these pools," Fisher said. "It's where the community can pool together, come down, see your neighbor, have a nice, safe environment for the kids and the family and beat the heat."