So You Want To Work On Swimming Pools
So you are considering a career in the pool and spa industry...congratulations. Working on swimming pools might not be as hard, or as glorious, as earning a ticket to Valhalla, but there are going to be some interesting challenges that you encounter along the way to be sure. You do not need to be an actual Viking to work on pools...but it would probably help.
Of course everyone would work in the pool and spa industry if they could, however, the demanding nature of the job and work environment precludes many of the weaker members of society from being able take part. Before any person can be employed in the pool and spa industry they need to be sure that they do not have any sensitivities or phobias which may prevent them from doing their day to day jobs effectively. Consider the following common problems that pool and spa workers need to deal with daily:
Bees & Hornets
I once was working with a group of new employees doing some basic swimming pool orientation. A bee flew into the area where we were working and one person in the group simply melted down. Before the bee was even near where they were standing they began flailing recklessly and pacing back and forth. They lasted perhaps two more seconds more before abandoning any attempt to hold it together and physically ran out of the back yard while ducking and swinging their arms wildly. If this describes your comfort level with bees and hornets then perhaps you would be better suited to a job at the mall, or possibly in a clean room assembling circuit boards where the likelihood of flying insect stings is significantly lower. Any seasoned pool technician knows to just ignore the bees and they will largely ignore you also. If you panic every time you see something flying by your face then you are going to have a hard time cutting it in the pool industry.
Sensitivity To The Sun
If you are considering a career in the pool and spa industry then you need to have a strong resistance to the sun. Being exposed to the sun for every waking hour of the summer season is not something that fair skinned people tend to handle well. The secret is to simply cover up and reduce the amount of sun exposure that your skin gets. For the parts of your body that you can not cover up effectively then you need to use strong sun block regularly. I, for example, have fair skin and I burn very easily in the sun. This is why I don't play around when it comes to sunblock. I use this SPF 110 sunscreen which I can only assume is intended for albino babies. It is almost strong enough to prevent me from getting burned.
Before you decide to work in the pool and spa industry then you need to consider what your "office" looks like. You do not get the benefit of being in a climate controlled setting at work. This means that when it is dangerously hot and there are warnings on TV and the radio for old people to hide inside - these will be your busiest days. I always thought it was strange that when it is so hot that people might die you need to work the hardest. The pool industry is strange.
Using Loud & Dangerous Tools
If you are afraid of tools that have the ability to mangle you in unique and horrible ways then perhaps the pool industry is not for you after all. Most especially with swimming pool installations you will find all sorts of heavy, sharp and unnecessarily dangerous tools in use daily. My favorite example of this would be gas powered hand held concrete chop saws.
I can not be 100% certain but I believe that hell is nothing but endless slabs of concrete that need cutting. And all of the concrete is owned by lawyers, and no matter how well you cut it you always end up getting sued. If you want to work in the construction side of the pool and spa industry then you need to be confident and experienced using all sorts of hand and powered tools, or be willing to learn. Or be willing to be nicknamed "lefty".
Potentially Deadly Bacteria
Stagnant and untreated water can hold some of the most deadly and horrific bacteria you can imagine. Brain eating parasites, flesh eating bacteria, malaria, bird flu, west nile virus and a host of staph and other insidious nasties. I once read a story about a boy who had a cut on his finger and he reached into some stagnant water to retrieve a ball he lost. Within hours he was having his arm amputated due to flesh eating bacteria getting into his cut. This is the kind of stuff that I think about when I am standing knee deep in black, rancid water while eating a sandwich.
Pool workers are usually covered in miscellaneous cuts and abrasions and we have nearly daily contact with stagnant, untreated and potentially deadly water. I actually wonder how more of us do not contract these horrible infections and diseases. I have often speculated that my lifelong exposure to these conditions has somehow bolstered my immune system to near superhuman levels. If you are weak, and sickly, and use things like "band-aids" then the pool industry might not be right for you.
If you are going to professionally let yourself into dozens of peoples backyards per week then you had better be good about dealing with four legged security systems. Dogs are territorial animals and many of them, even friendly ones, do not take kindly to uninvited pool technicians showing up in their yard. This is deeply ingrained in the nature of dogs to protect their home. A dog in the yard on its own may feel that it needs to defend the property in the absence of its master. If you are nervous around dogs then you better make sure the company you work for has good health care coverage. Dogs respond to pheromones and confidence. If you are not confident when you are suddenly face to face with a surprised dog then you at least better be good at jumping fences.
A pro tip is to make a lot of noise with the gate when you open it to gain access to the yard. Take your first few steps slowly and be ready to back-track in a hurry if something comes running. Even better, hire an apprentice who is slow and tasty looking.
Unreasonably Angry Customers
People who own swimming pools are highly inclined to have periodic fits of uncontrollable anger. Science should be studying this phenomena. With shocking regularity swimming pool industry workers will be the victim of irate and screaming customers even though you have zero fault in the situation. Part of working on pools means that you will be the verbal punching bag for a constant and never ending stream of people. If you struggle to keep your cool with screaming people in your face then you should take some anger management and peaceful conflict resolution classes before you begin working with live customers.
On the bright side a little known fringe benefit of the pool industry is that you will know about literally every party, birthday, graduation and celebration that happens in your neighborhood...and it will be your fault if people can't go swimming.
Questionable Water Sources
I would estimate that at least half of the water that I have consumed throughout my life has come out of a filthy garden hose. This is a reality of working in the pool and spa industry. Even if you are adamant about bringing drinks there will come a day when you forget your lunch at home, or your day suddenly gets much longer than you expected. When this happens you will you will become one of us. Join your local hosedrinkers union.
Are you the kind of person who is brand specific for your bottled water because the others "taste funny" to you? I, personally, prefer drinking out of green hoses more than other colors. I find that the other color hoses have funny tasting water.
Do you find that your hands are often dry and chapped? Is chafing, you know, chafing you? Maybe a lifetime of having your hands covered with concrete, or chlorine, is not a great idea for you. The old world Italian finishers that I used to work with all had the same pre-game warmup on concrete day. They would show up impossibly early in the morning and all stand around smoking cigarettes and duct taping their finger joints closed. Does this sound like something you hope to be able to do one day? No? OK then you either need to go back to school and do something else, or start using gloves and moisturizer.
All jokes aside I have some pretty dry hands after too many years of chemical and concrete exposure. I have also worked with many people who shed skin on their hands like a molting snake. The best topical moisturizer I have ever found, by far, is something that farmers use on chapped cow udders called Bag Balm. OK you can start joking again now.
Among all the other working challenges that exist in the pool and spa industry the worst is the lack of sleep. Humans are not designed to work 80+ hours per week in all weather conditions for months on end. Even the most sturdy pool industry worker will start to wane during the long stretches of the busy seasons. If you just don't "feel right" without at least a solid 10 hours of sleep every night then you are probably going to wash out from the industry. Largely the pool industry is staffed by sleep deprived zombies functioning equally on auto-pilot and muscle memory.
How do you feel about coffee? How do you feel about energy drinks? How do you feel about pouring energy drinks into your coffee? By the time you start your second week on a busy service route or construction crew you will need it. I'm not saying that this is good for you, or even a good idea, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get through the day. I like to think I am fairly healthy...but if Tim Horton's sold self-injectable 1000cc adrenaline shots I would probably have scar tissue build up on my chest by now. If you don't like working hard then, for sure, do not work in the pool industry.
Infrequent Bathroom Access
Part of the fun of working in the pool industry sometimes involves either holding it when you gotta go for extended periods, or lowering yourself to the level of an animal and relieving yourself in some strangers yard. Neither one of these is a particularly great option. Seldom spoken about are the horrible things that have happened in the back of service vans that involve a double thick plastic bag, a five gallon bucket, and six gallons of shame.
As a bonus to being an experienced pool worker you will no longer need to stop for bathroom breaks on long drives due to your ability to hold it for so long after years of practice. On the down side you will probably need kidney dialysis one day.
If you have read all of the warnings on this page and you are still adamant that you want to work on swimming pools then maybe, MAYBE, you might have what it takes. This kind of work is certainly not for everyone, and there is no dishonor in washing out of the pool industry and becoming a scientist, prize fighter or dentist or some other easier profession. We pool folk are a special breed. A special, dying, breed that can eat a raw sewage sandwich while operating a concrete saw with little to no sleep in unrelenting sun and heat. I can't imagine why more people don't want to work on pools...weird.
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