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Ontario addresses lifeguard shortage by reducing the age requirement

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Ontario lowered the minimum age requirement to become a lifeguard to 15 years old to address a staffing shortage across the province.

Lifeguards, assistant lifeguards and aquatic instructors can now be 15 years of age instead of 16.

"We have been experiencing a significant shortage in lifeguards, especially since the pandemic with all of the closures of pools. By changing the age for working lifeguards to 15, it actually matches what the Lifesaving Society already has in place," said Stephanie Bakalar, with the Lifesaving Society of Ontario.

"Since 2020, we have been certifying lifeguards at 15 so they can start working right away at 16," Bakalar added.

The Lifesaving Society of Ontario says 33 per cent of lifeguards certified in 2022 were 15 years old, adding that multiple courses have to be completed before being certified.

"The national lifeguard program is actually designed to account for maturity. We evaluate knowledge, judgment, fitness and skills. We know that our lifeguards are ready to work once they've completed the program. Less than one per cent of drownings occur in lifeguard-supervised settings. This shows the success of our program," said Bakalar.

The Lifesaving Society said roughly 170 drownings occur each year in Ontario, and roughly 500 within Canada.

The Recreation Centre in Orillia said recruiting lifeguards hasn't been easy, which is why they're hoping this announcement will get 15-year-olds in the area thinking about becoming a lifeguard.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction in helping us overcome some of the obstacles in recruiting lifeguards. We need a lot of lifeguards in order to operate pools and beaches and provide swimming lessons to the community," said Marcia Russell, director of recreation with the Town of Orillia.

"We're always looking for 20 or 30 lifeguards. It takes approximately 140 hours to become a fully trained lifeguard," Russell noted.

With this new regulation, it is now up to employers to decide whether they are ready to hire certified 15-year-old lifeguards.

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