From 'no gear and no idea' to industry expert: John McKenny

Macquatics Training
Wednesday, 31 August, 2016

From 'no gear and no idea' to industry expert: John McKenny

A regular contributor to Pool+Spa, John McKenny is a well-known face in the NSW pool industry. We asked the author of The Complete Swimming Pool Handbook and The Leisure Pool and Spa Handbook to share his thoughts on the state of the industry.

Pool+Spa: Tell us a bit about your background, John.

John McKenny: In 1947 my parents had their third child. Realising they’d reached perfection, I had no more younger siblings! I did my leaving certificate in 1964 and a Diploma at Hawkesbury Ag College in 1969. Approximately 35 years ago, I commenced studies in aquatics. During a TAFE course, I was asked to teach the course I was attending! I’ve attended six TAFE courses in recreation and aquatics in NSW and Queensland. Highlights include being awarded the TAFE medal in aquatics and honours in a Queensland pool operations course. I’ve managed swim centres in Dungog, Newcastle, Lightning Ridge and Glen Innes.

P+S: How did you get started in the pool and spa industry?

JM: My first day at Dungog Swim Centre had me in the filtration room with no gear and no idea. Then the council engineer arrived, said he could see I had everything under control and disappeared. That was my induction! I didn’t see anyone after that. In those days, poolies were on their own in small country towns, learning dangerously by their mistakes.

P+S: What do you think is the toughest challenge facing the pool industry at the moment?

JM: The whole qualifications framework. It’s still difficult to believe that it is possible to obtain a qualification (Certificate III in Aquatics) without having to do any aquatics modules to achieve this. The various advisors responsible for the recent changes have created a very dangerous situation whereby a person with qualifications in aquatics can use hazardous pool chemicals without any prior training. Those of us in NSW Country Pool Managers are currently urging the NSW Government to change this as soon as possible to have all persons in charge of public swim centres with minimum, revised qualifications, for swim centre employee and public safety.

P+S: What would you like to see more of in the pool industry and why?

JM: Better consultation. Currently, there’s a lack of proper consultation prior to critical changes being made with regard to necessary minimum qualifications for swim centre managers and employees. A simple process of adequate consultation can avoid government policy reversal and quite often embarrassment, as well as much angst for those directly affected.

P+S: What do you see as the biggest growth opportunity for the industry?

JM: Reduced chemical pools. With ultrafine filtration, ultraviolet irradiation, on-site natural chlorine extraction and the increased popularity of natural pools, I predict that the development then wide acceptance of (almost) chemical-free pools is not far away.

P+S: What do you think has been the key to your success?

JM: A number of things. Quite simply, I was willing to learn and accept change. I also took advantage of all opportunities that were presented to me. Also, setting up my own mini pool filtration system at home and experimenting with filter media and chemicals has given me a great understanding of how pools work. I have then passed my findings on to the people attending the training I provide.

P+S: What advice would you offer someone starting out in the industry?

JM: Obtain and maintain all necessary qualifications, and attend any quality training and conferences. Seek regular assistance from industry leaders and never experiment with chemicals. It’s too dangerous! It is so essential to understand the chemicals used in our industry. There has continued to be chemical fires in pools and pool shops, causing terrible injury, mainly because those handling these hazardous substances haven’t received the correct training on handling, what to add, how to add it and when and where. The courses I teach are not expensive and cover this vital area.

P+S: What do you like most about the industry?

JM: The children and swimming lessons. I’ve provided more than 19,000 swimming lessons in my life, from babies right through to the ‘tea bags’ or ‘wrinklies’ as I call them. I lost my best mate to drowning when we were just seven years old and after 60 years, that terrible memory is still with me. Hopefully the lessons have saved a life or two.

Image credit: © Okur

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