Rites Of Passage For Working On Swimming Pools
Every industry has idiosyncrasies that are unique however the swimming pool industry operates on an entirely different level than most other industries. The largely unregulated nature of the pool and spa market allows for some unique characters, as well as some interesting situations. In general, people do not understand how complicated swimming pools are, nor do they appreciate the way in which the industry is self divided into retail stores, builders, servicers and maintenance workers.
Throughout the past 50 years, the swimming pool industry has lacked any credible industry-wide certification standards, and so anyone who wanted to be a pool worker...was. As an industry insider I can attest to the fact that it is very difficult to establish yourself as experienced. Even amongst ourselves it is difficult to determine who knows what they are talking about versus who does not. In order to help provide a relative bearing, I have developed this list of criteria to help you determine your level of experience in the pool and spa industry. Once you have experienced each of these situations then you can consider yourself to be a master of your craft.
Getting Trench Foot
You are not officially a swimming pool pro until you have dealt with the repercussions of having wet feet for 16+ hours per day for weeks, if not months on end. Most people never need to know just how uncomfortable it can be when your feet are abused so much, and exposed to the worst possible environmental conditions.
Some jobs can be worse than others, such as with the pool opening and closing seasons that is common in seasonal pool areas. If you open or close 10+ pools every day, day after day, for months on end, you simply can not keep your feet dry. Sure there are boots that can keep your feet dry, but the fast paced requirements of servicing so many pools every day requires footwear that is nimble and lightweight.
Surviving A Chlorine Gas Attack
Every experienced pool worker needs to know, first hand, what it feels like to get punched in the face with a chlorine gas bomb. All too many pool owners are casual about how and where they store chlorine products. Also there are still many pool owners (and even a few seriously behind the times professionals) that add chlorine pucks to the skimmer or pump strainer baskets. When the pump turns off and the water is stagnant, the chlorine continues to dissolve and concentrate in the water. When you open a system that is filled with chlorine gas, you will know it for sure. Your eyes will immediately close, and the acrid punch of the chlorine gas hitting your lungs will stop your breath and leave you coughing and gasping for air. Once you have permanently damaged your lung tissue with chlorine gas you can consider yourself an experienced pool professional.
Falling In The Pool
Look, nobody likes to admit that they fell in the pool...but it happens. In fact, until you have accidentally fallen into a pool while working on it then you can not possibly consider yourself a seasoned professional. Falling into the pool on a weekly or monthly basis may be an indication that you have a different kind of problem altogether. Please note that it does not count if your wife, the pool owner, or an unhappy employee pushes you into the pool. You have to fall in of your own (careless) free will for it to count towards your experience points. It also does not count when you "accidentally" fall into the nice pools on really hot days.
Losing A Bid To An Unqualified Company
You are certainly not an experienced professional in the pool and spa industry until you have lost out on a bid for a project to a company charging less than your materials costs for the job. Every experienced pool worker has gone through this where you provide a detailed estimate for a difficult project, only to lose the bid to someone charging half as much as you are. Now, as an experienced contractor you know that the job can not be done properly at that price...but good luck explaining that to a pool owner shopping for the lowest possible quote. Eventually you need to learn to let go of these situations. Either that or start carrying one of these around with you in your work truck.
Fixing Other Peoples Work
Staying with the theme of dealing with the ramifications of under-experienced pool technicians, every experienced pool person knows the agony of fixing something that the last guy completely destroyed. There is no way that you can call yourself an experienced pool technician until you have found yourself removing epoxy repairs that should never have happened. There are a lot of repairs on a swimming pool which can be difficult...but there are no repairs that can not be made worse by some hack "having a go at it" before you have a chance to fix it properly. Pool owners are the worst for this, or pool epoxy marketing campaigns are among the best in the world, as epoxy is rarely the right choice to try to fix anything on a swimming pool...and yet it is used so commonly. An integral aspect to becoming an experienced pool technician is to be able to admit when you don't know something and learn how to say no to work that is not in your wheelhouse.
Operating A Shovel Until Your Hands Bleed
You know that bankers, politicians, accountants and mortgage brokers do not do anything so hard at work that it makes them bleed? In the swimming pool industry it is normal daily behavior to be on the business end of a shovel for so long that your hands turn into a horror show of blood, and blisters, and blood blisters. Until you develop calluses on top of your calluses you can not possibly call yourself an experienced pool tech. The only acceptable time for an experienced pool technician to have soft, callous free hands, is if the water and pool chemicals has caused all of your hand skin to fall off. If you plan your plaster days around the healing wounds on your hands from abusive physical work, then you are certainly a master of the swimming pool industry.
Getting Sick From Working On Pools
Getting sick from working in and around swimming pools is definitely a rite of passage in the pool industry. West Nile, parasites, bird flu, giardia, crypto, flesh eating disease and many more nightmare illnesses are on the menu for people who work in and around swimming pools. That is, of course, assuming that the airborne Legionnaire's disease does not get you first.
When you combine these working hazards with working all waking hours, in all types of weather, and you have the perfect storm of factors that can result in some funky new sickness. Two rules that pool workers learn early are 1 - use hand sanitizer, and 2 - keep your fingers out of your orifices. Working with stagnant black water and then rubbing your eyes is not a smart move to be sure.
Learn How To Work With Animals
By the time you are an experienced pool technician you should be able to heartlessly pull drowned, bloated creatures out of the skimmer by the half dozen, while feeling nothing. All of your care-molecules need to die off in order to be able to do your duties as a pool worker. How can you vacuum the pool if you are not able to remove the possum currently blocking up the skimmer opening?
In addition to the gross factor, pool workers also need to be able to deal with animal and insect hazards like bees, or in the case of Australia, great white sharks, presumably.
Forget The House But Remember The Pool
One rite of passage for every pool worker is to pull up to a house for the first time, open the gate and walk into the back yard, only to remember every single detail about this particular pool. You might not remember the house, or the home owner, or the property, but the second you walk into the pool area you suddenly remember every aspect of the pool. It is uncanny how you can forget all of the other details about the house but upon sight of the pool you can name every piece of pool equipment, as well as the location of the most convenient electrical outlets and hose bibs. There comes a point where your mind can just not reconcile all of the swimming pools...there are just too many and something has to give so your mind stuffs that information deep, down in a corner somewhere. When you see the pool again this opens the box and the memories come flooding back.
Get Yelled At For Flooding The Neighbor
There is no way that you can consider yourself a seasoned pool professional until you have experienced an irritable neighbor who is absolutely furious that water from the pool that you are draining has touched their property in some way. Learning how to talk down angry neighbors is a fundamental part of the swimming pool apprenticeship program. In addition to the angry neighbor who wants to yell at you, an experienced pool worker also needs to know how to deal with the nosy neighbor. Sure you can tell the neighbor to take a hike but an experienced pool tech knows how important it is to maintain a working relationship with the neighbors - you never know when you might need to take down a fence for access to the pool area through the adjacent property!
Unexpected Delays & Anxious Customers
There comes a point in the career of every swimming pool professional where they must determine how to tell an anxious customer that the part they need will take four to six weeks to arrive. Even worse than this is telling them that the part they waited four to six weeks for already...is not the right one. The right part is going to take...about four to six weeks to come in.
Dealing with a customer who is having a stress induced stroke takes practice and only once you can talk someone like this back from the brink of insanity can you call yourself a master pool technician. To be fair, especially in seasonal pool areas, having your pool down for a few weeks during peak season can feel like an eternity.
100 Hour Work Weeks
The final rite of passage to becoming an experienced pool technician is learning how to operate safely and effectively with little to no sleep for extended periods of time. Until you have clocked in 100 hours or more in a working week then you still have more learning before your training will be considered complete.
Most humans never need to understand the discipline it takes to work as much in one week as many full time workers put in during a three week period...which is a good thing. Working that much is not fun, but dealing with angry customers who want to be swimming is even less so.
If you would like to know more about what it is like working in the pool and spa industry you can also read this article about the challenges of working on pools and spas as well as this article about designing the "perfect" pool worker. Finally you should read this article about common personality types you find working for every pool company.
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