Point Mallard Park has hired fewer than half the employees — typically teenagers — it needs for the summer season that starts in a month, a deficiency that could disrupt operations and likely has its roots in the pandemic.
Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake said the department has hired 160 out of the needed 400 temporary summer employees, and the season opens on Memorial Day weekend at the end of May.
Lake said the department particularly needs lifeguards for Point Mallard and for the Aquadome and Carrie Matthews recreation centers’ swimming pools. So far, only 60 of the 150 lifeguards needed for the summer have been hired, Lake said.
“We usually hire most of our lifeguards earlier because they need a lot more training,” Lake said.
Park Manager Stephanie McLain said lifeguards “are the most critical need” but they’re still short in other positions throughout the park that are usually filled by now.
McLain said the department's difficulties in luring workers is similar to the labor shortage faced by businesses throughout Decatur.
“We’re not getting the same number of applications that we usually get, but everybody that’s hiring right now is having the same problem,” McLain said.
McLain said a big issue is “we don’t have the returning employees because we didn’t open last year.” The coronavirus pandemic prevented the city from opening the wave pool park in what was supposed to be its 50th anniversary season in 2020.
The park is advertising heavily for applications and season ticket sales at the same time.
“We’ve put our yard signs out everywhere,” McLain said.
She said she is also working with Decatur City and Morgan County school systems and their career counselors to reach the teenagers who could fill out their workforce. However, McLain said she and her staff aren’t able to go to the high schools to do in-person recruiting because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Angela Cushing, Decatur City Schools career counselor for grades 8 through 12, said the school system is trying to help Point Mallard find employees. She’s still waiting for approval to put out the park’s recruiting yard signs on the Austin and Decatur high schools’ campuses.
Cushing said she sent emails promoting Point Mallard’s need for employees to all sophomores, juniors and seniors.
“They’re pretty good about checking emails, especially since we went virtual so much (because of the pandemic) this year,” Cushing said.
Cushing said the assistant principals are running Point Mallard job promos on in-house televisions feeds in the cafeterias and halls. The senior counselors contacted the seniors about the openings.
“We’re doing everything we can to help Point Mallard,” Cushing said.
McLain and Cushing said issues directly or indirectly related to the pandemic could be discouraging teenagers from applying.
Cushing said the pandemic remains a concern because most teenagers have not been vaccinated.
“Some parents and teens may be still nervous about working in that environment,” Cushing said.
Cushing suggested the park could enter into a partnership with the Morgan County Health Department or other health agency in which they could set up a mobile vaccination point at Point Mallard for the employees and possibly others who want their shots.
McLain said they are consulting with Police Chief Nate Allen, the city’s designated COVID-19 officer, and Safety Coordinator Rodney Shephard on cleaning plans for the park.
Cushing said some students continue to take their classes online so they’ve already found jobs during the school year that pay more. She said some of the Career Academy students have credentials that make them eligible for jobs in some local industries that pay more than Point Mallard.
McLain said Point Mallard’s starting pay is $9 an hour, which is $1.75 above minimum wage, plus the park offers a more flexible work schedule than is offered by many employers.
“We’re very flexible working around baseball, football or other activities,” McLain said. “We know teenagers have other obligations.”
McLain said they may have to reduce operating hours on some attractions if they’re short on employees to cover them.
Lake said the slow start in hiring and the potential hiring shortage are forcing park leadership to plan “for what we do if we don’t get enough employees to do everything.”
McLain said they plan to continue hiring up until opening day or until all positions are filled.
Anyone interested in a Point Mallard job can fill out an applications and submit it on the park’s website, www.pointmallardpark.com. McLain said applications are also available and can be submitted at the park’s administration offices at the Point Mallard Ice Complex.