Technical Corner

Pandemic Recovery – What Is The New Industry Normal?

August 29, 2022

The past months have been frustrating and at the same time educational, pending on what lens is used to evaluate the experience. Trying to sort through shifting COVID Regulations, social and mainstream media updates, opinions and attitudes, was an interesting challenge. In our industry, we have always tried our best to balance risks against worker and user needs and expectations in everything we do. Like most other businesses, we (the industry and ORFA) are learning to use data, not emotion to drive our decisions. Specific to the pandemic, the additional emotion that was being expressed by our users was something we had not previously experienced. And with every wave, outbreak or surge there came an increased level of emotion. Compounding the issue, was the fact that not all of the experts could agree on how best to move forward.

There is mixed opinion, if in fact the risk of COVID-19 is over. Restrictions are being lifted with many businesses trying to evaluate the full social, economic, cultural and lifestyle impacts created by the virus. Recreation professionals will be tasked with managing and controlling safety rules that may remain in place for years to come. Members continually express their need to “return to normal” however, it is doubtful that we will ever return to pre-pandemic levels of service provision. We will need to adopt and adapt to the new normal which continues to unfold. As we continue on this journey, the ORFA will try and collect lessons that will be embedded into our training courses and professional accreditation pathways. Members will be forced to ask difficult questions with the old analogy of two steps forward and one step back most likely being common. Collectively, we will need to try and filter the science driven data to determine how we will meet our objectives. As we sit on the eve of municipal elections, it will be interesting to see how the new community leaders embrace the lessons of the pandemic given that they were not on the frontlines. It was amazing to watch as our members accepted new assignments or projects with pride and commitment. We were often the silent “go-to-team” for many of the changes in community operations. As we have always done, we leaned into the problems and found creative solutions to some very difficult issues.

The pandemic underscored the importance of our industry as a key component of a community’s emergency planning activities. From incident reporting, alarm responses and injection sites in our facilities, our proactive solutions helped avoid other problems that might have led to litigation or liability. In some ways, the pandemic promoted a new found appreciation for the role and professionalism our industry plays in protecting people, property, and other assets. Our industry will require leadership to ensure that risks and challenges associated with the pandemic are moved forward so that they are not lost.

As many workers enjoyed the safety of working from home or a blended work week, recreation staff were often on the frontlines in the heart of the exposure to the virus. The demand for support staff was compounded by an increased exodus of experienced staff; many of whom were wavering on retirement. Providing training for these individuals was at best difficult at times. As other operations enjoy a transitional period, recreation professionals are being pressured by users to get back in the pool, fields, gyms and on the ice. As an Association, ORFA is enlightened by the resilience of our members as we pivoted from in-person training sessions to podcasts, webinars, and online learning in a very short period of time. Our collective ability to adapt and adjust to this new way of conducting business was impressive. The change is here to stay. What other training platforms will survive will be driven by members interest and actual commitment byway of registration.

As we (ORFA) visualize the needs for our industry, it is apparent that we have moved into a new landscape that we do not always have the training for. Much of the traditional frontline skills have been addressed through our training courses and accreditation pathways however, the advancement in technology that now drives much of our operations continues to expand. Recreation mechanical, electrical, and HVAC-R systems have never been more complex. Newer facilities that have invested in technology are now vulnerable to new challenges such as cyber-attacks, which adds to the need to understand cyber security as a skill set.

Beyond the structured training pathways, facility management needs to continually support staff by listening closely to their experiences and concerns and acting on their needs. Staff retention will be a priority, as the employment landscape has many increased opportunities for today’s job seekers. Ontario has an identified skills gap which includes our industry. It is essential that we provide the necessary training and managerial oversight to ensure our teams can deliver on expectation. We have an opportunity to prove ourselves as more indispensable then ever. There is no reason why our industry cannot leverage this experience to provide senior staff with the information they need to make sound decisions moving forward. Together we will forge out the new normal for the industry.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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