RLSS UK wants more older adults to become RLSS UK qualified lifeguards to help ease the Leisure sector’s ongoing recruitment challenge.

The charity, which works with over 3,000 swimming pools across the UK and Ireland, says almost every pool operator needs help to fill lifeguard posts. Attracting more over-50s into the profession makes business sense; RLSS UK’s latest Lifeguard Survey shows this cohort to be more fulfilled by their work and open to ongoing training and development than their younger colleagues.

“The government wants to encourage more over-50s back into work, and lifeguarding is ideal employment for this age group for a host of reasons. Older workers want work that is meaningful, flexible and offers social interaction. Lifeguarding provides all of this and more,” says Nicola Baldwin, RLSS UK’s Research and Insights Manager.

“Our survey shows that older lifeguards feel really positive about being part of the lifeguarding community and the sense that they are making a difference. They also value the flexibility of the role.”

With one in five people aged 50 to 69 years in the UK acting as informal carers* being able to fit lifeguarding around other commitments is highly attractive for people in this age bracket.

According to survey results published earlier this year, lifeguards aged 50 and over are some of the most fulfilled in the profession and why 80% of them would recommend the job to others.

Almost all older lifeguards (95%) say they feel proud to have completed the RLSS UK’s National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) - the most popular lifeguard qualification in the UK and Ireland – and nearly three quarters (73%) say the qualification had improved their confidence.

“It's a great job; flexible, good for developing confidence, meeting new people and being part of a team,” said one older lifeguard.

With so much work available, nine in ten NPLQ holders have worked or volunteered as a lifeguard since completing their qualification.

“I am semi-retired. I lifeguard to keep fit and remain socially active with people of all age groups and backgrounds,” said a 66-year-old lifeguard.

“Because of me, three older friends have become lifeguards. We need older, more responsible people,” said another.

Lifeguarding attracts people from all walks of life, like former long-distance truck driver Stan, who became a lifeguard in his seventies at Grimsby Leisure Centre, and 62-year-old Bernie, who works at Wales National Pool.

“I have found that my life experience has helped me build a rapport with customers, which projects a friendly and professional image for the pool. People sometimes think the job is about rescuing people in trouble. But we as lifeguards rarely have to do that because we are really here to prevent issues in the first place,” says Bernie.

“We’ve got a number of older lifeguards here, and we’re such a diverse bunch which all adds to the fun. We’ve got a former police officer and a former engineer, so your background as a lifeguard doesn’t have to be in swimming. No shift in this job is the same as the last. The flexibility of the role is a big plus point, and knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life is very rewarding.”

Nicola Baldwin says: “Attracting older people into lifeguarding has clear benefits for operators and workers and could be the key to solving the UK’s lifeguard shortage. We’d like to see more older adults enjoying this wonderful profession's benefits while plugging the skills gaps to ensure our pools stay open.”

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* ONS, living longer: caring in later working life, 2019