Sharing knowledge and a love of aquatics at Nelson Pools

May 23, 2017

CLM’s Nelson Aquatics facility manager Dave McKenzie has been working at Nelson pools for the past 20 years. In that time as he has grown his career and expanded his skills, he has developed a passion for helping others to upskill too.

As manager of the inner-city Riverside Pool and Nayland Pool, about 20 minutes from central Nelson, Dave oversees a team of 65 people, managing staff, budgets, health and safety, plant and equipment, and more. He has a team of six coordinators who head up the various departments.

Dave is also a Skills Active assessor. He says on-job qualifications not only strengthen employees’ skills and confidence, but help the business to keep staff engaged and committed to their jobs.

“We do struggle a bit [with retention], especially with the outdoor pools; we don’t see the same people come back every season. The reward from getting staff qualified is that it tends to keep people here a bit longer, as well as meaning that we have more experienced staff.

“When staff have that qualification, they feel that they can step up a bit, and that’s motivating.”

Even when staff do move on, the experience they’ve gotten during their time at the pool will stand them in good stead, Dave says.

“Especially with lifeguarding: the leadership skills, the teamwork, dealing with tricky situations, and using your initiative – for young people, it’s beneficial for just about any job they might go into.”

Nonetheless, as a manager it is particularly rewarding to see those staff who stay choosing to build careers in aquatics, Dave says.

“Our lifeguards have gone on to become swim teachers, or work in the gym, reception, and management roles. Quite a few of the coordinators started as lifeguards; now they are overseeing all the lifeguards, or managing other teams within the two facilities.”

However, it can be hard for trainees to stay focused on their training, particularly in summer, he says.

“We are in Nelson, and if they’ve got any spare time they want to be spending it outside.”

Often what makes the difference, he says, is making sure individuals get lots of support and encouragement from their manager, as well as regular catch-ups with their Skills Active learning support advisor, Denise Clarke.

“Denise will come and see all the trainees, see how they’re going, and answer any questions. They may not be sure how to do something, and often that’s where they stop and don’t carry on.

“She is really good at explaining ways they can go about the different tasks. So it’s not just me pushing them along and encouraging them.”

Dave says being a facility manager is a great career for junior staff in the aquatics industry to work towards.

“At one stage I could be at my desk doing payroll; later I might be cleaning something or running a kids’ programme, teaching lessons, or fixing and maintaining plant.

“And because it’s a seven-day-a-week business, there is lots of flexibility. So I might work a weekend day so that I can spend more time with my son during the week.”

On top of looking after two facilities, Dave also provides aquatic consulting services in the Nelson and Marlborough regions. This involves applying his skills and experience to help other pools operate successfully.

With Dave’s help, Picton Pool at Queen Charlotte College was recently able to meet the criteria for PoolSafe status, which will help this small local pool to stay open and continue serving the Picton community.

Dave is a keen learner himself. He recently completed a Pre-Hospital Emergency Care course, and next up he is considering the Skills Active Adult Education qualification. But he says being involved in the learning of others, and seeing them put training into practice, are some of the most rewarding parts of the job.

“For me it is great to share my skills and experience, and to see people grow. For instance, when I’ve taught someone how to be a lifeguard and then they rescue someone and save their life. They have done that rescue, but I played a part in it too.”