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Recruiting Certified Swim Lessons Instructors

Has your swimming lessons program been having issues? While there can be many causes for a group (or even private) lesson program to be struggling, none is more obvious as times change than the need for quality, certified instructors.

Not every organization requires all their lesson instructors to hold some type of lesson instruction certification. Most, don’t, in fact. As the need for lesson instructors has grown as lesson programs become more common, and utilized by the public, the ability for organizations to be particular about staffing requirements can become less stringent.

But when your lesson program starts earning losing customers because they aren’t happy with the instruction, it’s definitely time to make a change.

Why Recruit Certified Instructors

Let’s be honest here, at least part of the point of lessons programs is to make money. They can be big earners for any organization depending on the size of the program. They are often times the most cost effective use of pool space available.

But that doesn’t make them a sure fire thing. Critical to the success of any swimming lessons program is the quality of the lessons themselves. And critical to the lessons quality is the skill and quality of the instructors.

Now, having a certification does not inherently make you a great instructor, some people may just have it, while others may not. But what it does, is ensure you as a professional that your instructors are trained properly, thoroughly, and (if we’re being honest) are more likely to be quality instructors.

People have many options to choose from when it comes to getting swim instruction, between the local Y, swim schools, and municipalities, setting your organization and your program apart from other options in a positive way comes down to having a more effective and positive program.

With quality instructors teaching your lessons, parents who spend their hard earned money for their children or themselves to learn to swim will get more out of it. When attendants and guardians are happy with their lessons and the instruction, some very important things begin to happen:

They Continue in Your Program Whether it is themselves, their children continuing up through the levels, or their other children joining the program, with each positive experience your participants enjoy, the more they will return to your program.

They Recommend Your Program If the families that participate in your program are happy with their instruction and experience, they are more inclined to recommend your program when their friends, neighbors or relatives are in search of swimming lessons.

The main driving force behind hiring certified instructors for your organization is to provide quality lessons instruction that maintains quality lessons to grow your lessons program.

Common Instructor Certifications

So you want to add the requirement for certified instructors. Great! But what certification are you going to require? By far the most common form of instructor certification comes by way of the American Red Cross, their Water Safety Instructor (or WSI) certification is nationwide, and undoubtedly the most common, and widely accepted certification.

But just because it is the most well known, doesn’t mean it is the only option. Another option is provided by The Swim Lessons Company.

How to Recruit Certified Instructors

There are many ways to recruit certified instructors, whichever certification they have. Here are some of the most effective ways to recruit certified lessons instructors.


Paying for certified instructors can be costly, but often times ends up being cost effective. With the increase quality of your lessons programs, the higher cost of the instructor can easily be offset. There are a number of ways this can be accomplished.

It starts by offering your certified instructors higher pay than uncertified instructors, or requiring your instructors to obtain the certification in order to teach your lessons at a higher pay rate.

Special Pay Does your organization offer group swim lessons? Private lessons? Pay your certified instructors more to provide these services in order to draw those with certifications to your organization.

Starting Salary It’s likely, though not mandatory that your certified instructors are also lifeguards. If they are, offering them a higher base pay rate that applies to when they are lifeguarding, in addition to an even higher rate while teaching swimming lessons, can attract certified instructors. Since swimming lessons aren’t offered at all times during the day, instructors will likely need other ways to make money when not teaching.

Utilize Feeder Programs

While the American Red Cross has Junior Lifeguard courses, they don’t have junior WSI courses. However, you can still utilize the Junior Lifeguard program to recruit more certified instructors.

As I said, chances are good that your WSI’s will also be lifeguards, so developing an employment track that begins with Junior Lifeguard, moved to Lifeguard, and includes the Water Safety Instructor program as well earns you a certified instructor, while also providing continuing education and growth for your up and coming employees.

You can also utilize your group, or private swim lessons program, to generate interest in becoming a certified instructor from the youth in your community.

By building a candidate pool that has come up through your feeder programs, you are creating a sense of ownership from the community. That ownership and interest can generate the most committed and quality instructors.

One final feeder program that is extremely effective is a volunteer program. While we cannot utilize volunteers for lifeguarding, they can be utilized in your lessons program. Since lifeguarding is off the table, you can have volunteers aid your instructors and develop the interest in your program, and then once they’re old enough provide them the opportunity for lesson instruction certification.

Recruit Using Referral Programs

We’ve talked about referral programs in our Lifeguard Recruitment Posts and many of those same strategies apply to recruiting certified instructors.

By offering a reward of some kind, they can be more motivated to seek out certified instructors. The rewards don’t have to be extra pay, necessarily, though certainly cash is king. As an added bonus, when your staff become more familiar with the requirements and benefits of certified instructors they may be more likely to pursue the certification for themselves!

Many pools are managed by larger districts, like Foothills Park and Recreation District or municipalities such as the City of Denver, which afford a wider array of options for your referral program. Other services provided by your organization can be an excellent motivator. Things like, refer an employee and receive:

  • A free round of golf.

  • A free personal training session.

  • A free professional massage.

  • Reduced registration to a program.

  • Free facility pass.

These type of incentives motivate employees to bring in qualified lifeguard candidates, and can work just as effectively, but can cost your company little or nothing.

Referral programs can even be implemented for the public in general, not just employees. By providing a reward like free punch cards, the cost for organizations can be slim to none, and it will still generate new candidates. While an external referral program can provide many benefits. In the public service industry, we can see added benefits. Public referral programs can also serve to increase community ownership in the operation of their local facilities.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to set requirements for the candidates received through staff referrals. Things such as: how long they stay in their position before the reward is given, or rewards based off of the referrals performance can be effective strategies. That way staff are encouraged to refer only quality candidates if they hope to get their reward.

Provide the Opportunity for Certification Yourself

Perhaps one of the most effective methods to recruiting certified lessons instructors is to grow them from within your own program. If you are able to offer the courses for staff to acquire the certifications you’re looking for, you can accomplish several important functions at the same time:

  • Grow and train employees: rather than hiring outside staff for positions and responsibilities, which will increase retention, staff morale and job satisfaction.

  • Improve lessons program: your lessons program will benefit from having more quality instructors already familiar with your organization's operations and policies.

  • Know the people: You have the opportunity to get to know, the people who you certify before they teach for you, which means you can choose the cream of the cream of the crop.

  • Provide consistent training to your personal standard: while all WSI courses are taught to a standard, as with any wide spread curriculum there will be differences, and often times what is in the program may not reflect your exact practices.

While getting the ability to provide WSI certification courses can be a difficult process (contact your ARC representative for more information), the benefits as listed above are numerous. Notably, by providing your staff the easiest opportunity to obtain the certification, you are decreasing the barriers to obtaining the certification. Which will result in more of your staff obtaining the certification.

Reimburse Staff to Get Certified

While offering staff better pay once they’ve obtained an instructor certification can entice some to pursue it, not everyone will be keen on the long term benefit of paying upfront for a certification.

One final, extremely effective, method is to offer to reimburse your staff for obtaining the certification. This is a particularly appealing option if you don’t have the ability to offer the certification course yourself.

This has the same effect on staff as running the course internally, as it provides them an opportunity to grow and learn helping them feel valued, and challenged by their work. These are key factors in staff retention, here are some other factors to help.

Obviously there are some special considerations when looking at reimbursing your staff for obtaining a certification. It is important to note that all reimbursement is necessarily contingent on their successful completion of the certification program. Here are some different methods of reimbursement that may fit your organization’s needs and abilities:

  • Full Reimbursement: Once staff have completed the course you reimburse them the full cost of the class.

  • Partial Reimbursement: Once staff have completed the course you reimburse them for part of the cost of the class as agreed upon before the course.

  • Delayed Reimbursement: Aside from full or partial reimbursement it may be advisable to consider a delayed reimbursement plan to ensure staff that have acquired the certification teach for your organization a set time before being reimbursed.

If you’re looking to improve your swimming programs, whether they’re group or private lessons or both, utilizing certified instructors is one of the most effective ways.

If you’re developing your swimming lessons program, I would strongly urge you to look into utilizing certified instructors, and if possible, training them yourself.

Utilizing the methods discussed you’re sure to find more certified swim lesson instructors in no time.

Have other methods to recruit certified instructors? Have an opinion on the best certification for lessons? Let us know below!

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