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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Staffing shortfalls cut into City of Calgary's summer programming – Calgary Herald

The program taking the biggest hit is swimming lessons
With schools set to go on summer break this week, options for parents looking for programming will be slim.

The City of Calgary said on Monday they are at about 40 per cent of their pre-pandemic staffing levels for summer camps and programs and this has resulted in reduced times at leisure centres, as well as cuts to swimming lessons.

While they will try to improve access to recreational facilities and programming as staffing levels increase, Michelle Tait, a regional superintendent with Calgary Recreation, said she is anticipating current operating hours to remain through the summer months.

“There’s definitely a high demand for normal pre-COVID recreation offerings, whether that’s a day camp, or a swim lesson, or even just hours of operation,” she said. “I think the public is looking for things to feel normal and we just haven’t been able to catch up.”

Due to staffing issues, leisure centres in the city are currently only open four days a week — they were open seven days a week pre-COVID. Their challenge has been to not overpromise and underdeliver by closely monitoring what they are able to do with their staffing levels. Tait does not want to go back and cancel classes because they do not have the employees or volunteers to run them.

The program taking the biggest hit is swimming lessons, operating at about 45 per cent their normal levels but with waiting lists across the board. This has left many parents and users frustrated, but Tait said there is some level of understanding among the public.

She said the pandemic severed two critical years of training for the next generation of lifeguards and other technical staff. To be a swim instructor, for example, they need their bronze cross and bronze medallion and there’s an additional course to be a lifeguard. Those courses are back up and running, but the recreation department is in catch-up mode.

“This is the big part with the aquatic world . . . Those courses weren’t offered during COVID because of the restrictions that were in place,” said Tait.

She also noted that as in other sectors that were shut down, many of their employees transitioned into more pandemic-stable occupations.

Tait added that programming is a fluid situation and is constantly changing regarding what is available; she recommends that parents keep a watch on the city’s website.

Meanwhile, WinSport has managed to hit its staffing targets for the summer but is still hiring to bring on flex staff that can help cover for staff over the course of the next couple of months. It is an improvement on their staffing forecast from not that long ago.

“A few weeks ago, we were looking at potentially having to cancel some programs because we couldn’t get that staff,” said Dale Oviatt, senior manager for WinSport. “Now, because certain programs have been so popular, we’re thinking . . . we need to get a little bit more staffing in that area.”

They focused their recruiting efforts through a number of avenues, including social media and job postings. One of their biggest challenges to overcome is the fact they are not on an LRT line, which makes it difficult for some staff to get there, but they managed to close the gap over the last month.

During the pandemic, they were reduced to about a third of their regular enrolment, but they are currently at 2019 levels for demand with about 5,000 kids signed up throughout the summer.

“It’s good to see being back at full capacity because we realize the importance of mental and physical well being of the kids and them being able to have access to these camps,” said Oviatt.

One of WinSport’s big challenges remains staffing their food and beverage operations, something the sector has struggled with across the country. While the May labour force report out of Statistics Canada had the sector shortfall at 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, Oviatt said they are about 20 per cent short.

Logan Jones, youth programs manager for the University of Calgary, said they are at full staff for the summer with about 250 people hired to run their camps and other programs. The U of C does have an advantage with a large student body they can tap into, full of young adults looking for summer jobs. It is a similar situation for SAIT, who said in a statement they are fully staffed for the summer.

The demand for U of C programs is quickly working its way back up to pre-pandemic levels when they had 11,000 youths signed on for camps and other activities. In 2020, that number dropped to 3,500 and last year they had between 7,000 and 7,500. This year they are back up to about 9,000 kids registered for the summer months with some spaces still available.

They offer a wide range of athletic and educational programs including the return of their vet med camps and mermaid camps, as well as their design camp in the downtown, which was put on hold due to the pandemic. New this year is a digital library camp, as well as some language arts programs.

“Some of the camps are definitely full, but there are still more than 1,000 (to) 1,500 spots available,” said Jones. “So there’s lots of opportunities for people to still jump on board and participate this summer.”

jaldrich@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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