Clark County’s recreational and childcare facilities are struggling to attract employees | Wender Mind Kids

Swim teacher Jane Twinkel, facing, helps young students with their form during a lesson at Kids Club Fun & Fitness in Salmon Creek on Tuesday morning. Kids Club and other facilities offering summer programs have had a hard time hiring workers in a tight labor market. Lifeguards especially are in short supply.

If it seems like you’ve had a hard time getting your kids into day camps and swim classes this summer, it’s not just your imagination. Recreation centers are struggling to hire staff in a tight job market as demand for their programs rebounds from pandemic lows.

For example, the Kids Club for Fun & Fitness at Salmon Creek was able to increase staff for its day camps but was unable to add special events. The list of day camps offered by the City of Vancouver’s Parks and Recreation Department does not include the youth programs that were offered prior to the pandemic. The YMCA in Orchards has fewer hours open than before, as have two swimming pools operated by Vancouver Public Schools.

“It’s really difficult to be an employer that attracts workers,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state employment security agency.

Unemployment rates have tumbled to record lows in recent months from record highs at the start of the pandemic.

Recreational and childcare facilities, which offer summer programs for children, have been hit hard by the pandemic and are “disproportionately struggling to get the workforce back up to speed,” she said. “It’s an exceptionally deep hole.”

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Parents rely on a patchwork of activities to keep their kids busy throughout the summer, and it’s not all about summertime fun. Day camps, booked weekly for hundreds of dollars, are a de facto childcare facility for many school-age children of working parents, while younger children often remain in programs that run year-round.

“We already knew we had a childcare crisis. The pandemic has really impacted the field. It has opened up discussion about how childcare and early learning are part of our economic vitality,” said Debbie Ham, executive director of nonprofit Support for Early Learning & Families.

SELF serves day care centers operated by Educational Service District 112.

The pandemic has shrunk childcare capacity, which has yet to recover. As of this month, Clark County has 187 licensed providers with a total capacity for 8,110 children, according to Child Care Aware. This is less than in June 2020 – already several months after the start of the pandemic – when 219 providers had places for 9,011 children.

ESD 112 would normally have 24 pre-school and after-school childcare centers in the Vancouver and Evergreen school districts, but only nine were operational during the school year that ended earlier this month.

“This has absolutely everything to do with staffing, not because there wasn’t a need,” said Jodi Wall, executive director of ESD 112’s early care and education department to operate.”

The consortium will operate six school-age centers in the summer as before, but with 30 spots each instead of the 45 pre-pandemic.

The economics of childcare — paying workers more would mean charging more and potentially driving families out of the market — has always been a problem, Ham said. This is even more true in a tight job market, where fast-food restaurant workers can get jobs that pay as well or better without the educational requirements or background checks required for childcare work.

“A lot of companies start someone at $20. Our starting salary is $15.60 an hour, which is more than we used to have,” Ham said. “We don’t have the means to pay comparable salaries.”

The YMCA had to raise its pay for day camp staff from the state minimum wage of $14.49 an hour to $17 an hour to fill all of the positions needed to run a slew of day camps held at schools and other locations in the United States Clark County take place.

“We saw enrollments soar and were nervous that we would get enough staff, but we made it,” said Eddie White, executive director of the Clark County Family YMCA.

The occupation of the pool, however, is another story. The American Lifeguard Association has warned of a nationwide shortage. During the pandemic, lifeguard certification programs have been shut down along with everything else.

“Anyone with a pool struggles to find lifeguards,” White said.

Vancouver Public Schools operates two pools — the Propstra and Parsley centers — and still haven’t returned to pre-pandemic hours of operation.

“We closed a whole year, so we lost the lifeguards that we had to other places,” said Pat Nuzzo, spokeswoman for the Vancouver schools. “It is unfortunate that we do not have the staff to work at full capacity to keep children under supervision in a safe environment.”

The district now has 25 lifeguards on staff, though there are usually twice that number, Nuzzo said.

The Kids Club offers swimming lessons, day camps and an indoor jungle playground. The club has about 80 staff, fewer than the 100 it had before the pandemic, general manager Dawn Hinchy said

“It’s been an uphill battle since coming back from COVID,” Hinchy said.

The club has prioritized summer day camps, which accommodate about 90 children per week, as well as gymnastics and swimming classes. The downside, Hinchy said, is that the club has not been able to return special events and birthday celebrations to pre-pandemic levels.

“I feel like we’re just catching up,” Hinchy said.