Healthy Job Market, International Travel Difficulties Impact Local Pools

Memorial Day pool openings changed; swimming plans come up dry in some spots.

Area teens are choosing other job options this summer besides the lifeguard stand and the lifeguards from overseas that have come over with the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program in previous years have hit a travel roadblock leaving some pools in Fairfax County scrambling for help.

At Newberry Station in Newington, the pool was ready but the day before it was to open, an email came out from the property management group about the delayed opening.

“I unfortunately have to share that because of staffing challenges with our contracted pool company, by no fault of theirs in particular, we will be unable to open the pool until further notice,” wrote Birgit Burton, the Community Association Manager

“The delays have been caused by the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program which directly affects the foreign summer staffing for Newberry Station,” Burton wrote.

In Reston, it was the local job seekers who have not been interested in a lifeguard job so the hours were adjusted. Of the 15 swimming locations in Reston, their hours and closings were shifted around for the Memorial Day weekend, and an undisclosed time period after.

“Due to a shortage of lifeguards we must revise our pool schedule to ensure the safety of all swimmers. We apologize for the inconvenience and schedule change,” their announcement read. In Reston, they are holding lifeguard job fairs now to fill the positions, said communications rep Mike Leone. “We are being creative to attract area teens and college students, but many are opting for jobs in other fields,” he said.

The Pool and Hot Tub Alliance is working with government officials to lessen the impact, and has formed a J-1 Coalition to work “with members of the U.S. House and Senate to discuss the potential unintended consequences of regulator changes to the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program,” their information stated.

“More U.S. teen and college students are opting for summer education or the opportunity to gain professional experience through internships," said PHTA's Director of Government Affairs, Jennifer Hatfield. "The roadblocks that are limiting the number of J-1 visas being issued are placing unprecedented burdens on pool and spa industry companies and limiting their ability to service their customers," she said.

At Springfield Golf and Country Club, their lifeguard positions have seen a steady flow of applicants because their pool operations manager Sheri Landfair has built a loyal network and develops her staff along a progressive growth plan. They have seen the impact of the job market in other areas at the club. “With unemployment being the lowest since 1969, staffing for food and beverage has been especially challenging this past year for nearly all country clubs in our region, including Springfield Golf & Country Club,” Dawn Siebenhaar, the SGCC membership director.

In Kingstowne, their staffing is full and there weren’t any issues with finding enough applicants.

According to a Department of State website, the program allows “College and University students enrolled full time and pursuing studies at post-secondary accredited academic institutions located outside the United States come to the United States to share their culture and ideas with people of the United States through temporary work and travel opportunities.”

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