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How to combat staffing shortages

If you run a camp, sports program or youth recreation program, chances are a lot of families want to participate in your offerings. You may even have a waiting list or are looking at ways to increase the number of participants you can handle.

As the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, participation in these types of programs has surged. There’s just one problem—finding staff to help with these programs is becoming increasingly difficult. Camp staff and volunteers are in high demand, and traditional recruitment strategies have been less effective in the current market.

Providing appropriate supervision in your programs is critical to the safety and well-being of your participants. There are no shortcuts in providing this level of care, so here are some ideas on adjustments you can make to fully staff your program and activities:

  1. Highlight the benefits of working with youth and the transferrable skills gained. A few years ago, the American Camp Association conducted a camp director survey. According to the survey, 95 percent of responding staff members reported that working at camp helped them improve critical personal and professional skills that will be assets in their future careers. This is your “in” when you are trying to recruit staff members. Assure potential staff members that when they work at your camp, they are doing more than just supervising children—they are inspiring a whole new generation.

  2. Offer flexible schedules. You may be having difficulties recruiting staff members who will be available every day, all summer. Since the pandemic, it seems the desire for flexibility in employment is greater, and the commitment of working an entire season is less appealing. So why not work with your potential employees’ busy schedules? College students, in particular, may have conflicts that prevent them from fully committing to the camp schedule. Some young adults would be more likely to come on board if they only had to commit to, say, a month. You could also consider tapping into your alumni who have been trained by you, are committed to your mission, but may only be able to fill in for shorter periods of your season. This may require more creative administrative work on your part, but it could solve a problem and offer an opportunity to reimagine future staffing. It might also be beneficial to offer time off, away from camp to prevent burnout.

  3. Provide paid training and certifications. Many of the college students you employ are studying to be teachers or work in recreation or other child-focused fields. They are looking for any opportunity to add to their resume. Work experience is important, yes, but so are extra certifications and special skills. Offering an internship program or credits might be another attractive opportunity for those looking to maximize their camp staff experience.

  4. Consider compensation increases. You may not have the funds to raise pay for your staff members, but this is worth another look to see if you can make it happen. Inflation means college students are paying more than ever for the basics, and they need to find work that counterbalances that. If increased pay just isn’t feasible, offering other less costly benefits like camp swag, gift cards and the like might be an alternative solution worth exploring.

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