Any seasoned swimming pool technician knows the frustration of hiring and training new employees. More times than not you will invest heavily into teaching the ropes to your new apprentice only to have them eventually move on to (easier) work somewhere else. It is essentially impossible to "float" through a day of pool work. Any day of pool work really.
Most workers, especially young workers, simply are not willing to work as hard as you need to in order to cut it in the pool industry. This is true whether you work in a retail store environment or work in the field as a construction worker or pool service. Many people just do not appreciate the difficult nature of our work, and it makes the drop-out rate for new hires ridiculously high.
Early in the pool season when new people are commonly hired and trained, you could have a line of customers in a pool store from the time the doors open in the morning until after closing hours have long since passed. Working in an environment where it is difficult to get enough time to go to the bathroom or scarf down a sandwich in between water tests is simply asking too much from most people. Or if you are a new hire on a concrete pour crew, you had better show up for work ready to sweat the entire day...and absorb the near-abuse levels of training you will receive from the more experienced concrete workers.
I personally learned concrete placing and finishing from an old Italian man that used to provide instruction by hitting me with a shovel when I was not doing a good enough job. His English was poor, and my Italian even worse, but we both spoke the universal language of shovel, so we managed to figure it out. Could you imagine working at a bank and every time you have a question, the bank manager hits you with a stool? Yeah...me neither.
Working Half Days
In most employment positions when you are told that you will be working "half days," this means that you might be home in time for lunch. In the pool industry, a half day is right around 12 hours or literally half the 24-hour cycle of each calendar day. When you look forward to having a nice, easy 12-hour "half day" on a Saturday, then you have successfully integrated into the industry.
Undefined Work Hours
If you have ever worked in a structured work environment, then you come to enjoy the structure of knowing exactly when your shift starts, when the breaks happen and when you clock out. If you work in a factory or something similar, then you can anticipate being in your car and driving home exactly five minutes after your shift ends. You can go ahead and chuck all that nonsense right out the window when you work in the pool industry. Your day in the pool industry is based on getting the work finished and most workers struggle on a day-to-day basis just to get through the list of work orders. When you already work sunrise to sunset daily, you can't push work back to the next day, or you will never get caught up.
To be a completely proficient and well-rounded pool industry worker, you would need to be a masonry worker, tile-setter, carpenter, electrician, steel worker, heavy equipment operator, gasfitter, plumber, landscaper, designer, mechanical engineer and project coordinator as well as being proficient with organic chemistry, water filtration and chemical sanitation. If you want to own a pool company then, in addition to this, you need to also be a good sales person, accountant, trainer and HR manager. The amount of knowledge that you need to be well-rounded within the pool and spa industry is staggering and very few people realize this when they first start out.
A Constantly Evolving Industry
If you were an electrician 20 years ago, you could essentially go back to work tomorrow and almost everything would be exactly the same. The pool and spa industry, however, has changed drastically in that time and would be essentially unrecognizable. Pool equipment changes design every few years, sometimes every year, and evolving variable speed pump and automation control technology require constant design revisions in order to stay at the forefront of technology. As a pool and spa worker, you will need to re-learn essentially everything you know every few years.
Performing Under Pressure
When you are tasked with building, servicing or maintaining the single most expensive luxury purchase that most people will ever make, the stress of doing your job correctly cannot be overstated. Pool owners are extremely protective of their expensive backyard investment and unfortunately, many pool owners are instinctively defensive when it comes to pool and spa workers. Whether deserved or not, the reality is that pool industry workers have a negative stereotype similar to that of used car salesmen, and this means you are constantly questioned about your recommendations and are forced to spend a great deal of time educating your customers. If you do something wrong when working on a pool, the ramifications can be massively expensive — even worse if you do something unforgivable like leaving the gate open.
The nature of the pool industry is such that education is hard to come by. Aside from learning from your immediate supervisor, most pool workers will only have the opportunity to take courses once or twice per year. If you want to learn as much as possible about pools, simply showing up for your shift is not enough. Self-directed learning is important to gain exposure to aspects of the industry that you do not actively do, as well as finding better ways to do some of the things that you already do every day. Fortunately access to information is at an all-time high. Going back even one generation, there were absolutely no resources for people who wanted to learn more about pools other than to get out there and start working on them. The landscape of the industry today still requires self-directed learning, but at least the access to information is there now.
Working with heavy equipment, large power tools, standing water, hazardous chemicals...what could possibly go wrong when you have to work with this kind of stuff every day? Throw in a generalized disrespect for danger and possible substance abuse issues from many entry-level workers, and you have some real potential for problems. The need for workplace safety permeates the pool and spa industry as the consequences are too dire to ignore. Even something as simple as loading up your service truck for the day needs to be completed with above-average care to avoid a potential disaster in the back of your van. Everything in the pool industry is over-sized, awkward, especially heavy, maliciously dangerous or chemically reactive. In fact, you are going to need to work very hard to escape grievous injury when you decide to work on pools for a living.
So with all of these challenges, why would anyone choose to work on pools? There are lots of reasons actually...the thing that attracted me most to the pool industry, at least in the beginning, was the availability of working as many hours as I wanted. Most jobs limit you to 40 hours per week or so, but if you have the drive, you can work 100 hours per week on pools if you want.
I also enjoyed the ever-changing work environment and working outdoors a great deal. Many pool owners work throughout the day, so you have their backyard paradise all to yourself while you complete your work. This has real potential to be a relaxing, albeit fast-paced work environment. I also very much enjoyed the difficult nature of swimming pool work and the depth of knowledge needed to be proficient with all aspects of the industry. For people who enjoy a challenge and are not afraid of hard work, the swimming pool industry can be extremely rewarding — especially since so few people even think to enter this industry to begin with. If you become experienced enough, you can essentially write your own paychecks!
Steve Goodale is a second-generation swimming pool expert located in Ontario, Canada. You can learn more about Steve, as well as swimming pool construction, maintenance and repair, from his website: SwimmingPoolSteve.com. He can be reached at swimmingpoolsteve.com.