Risk Management: Continue Training All Summer

Risk Management

by Ed Schirick

The week or two of orientation spent prior to the arrival of campers is just the beginning of your opportunity to train staff. Precamp is a time of uncertainty and high anxiety for directors as they wonder if staff members have what it takes to make a great summer and how the dynamics of the group will develop.

While luck may play some part in developing a great staff and a great summer, more often than not hard work is at the foundation. Great teams don't just materialize out of the morning fog; they are created. Great summers follow when you have staff with a just-do-it attitude who know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and why it needs to be done.

In-Service Training Enables Constant Improvement

It takes talent and experience to chose staff with good skills, flexible attitudes, and potential. This challenge is common to all businesses. Experienced managers know that finding capable, willing workers is just part of the formula for success in business. Many managers have recognized the need to communicate clearly and regularly with staff and to challenge them. Part of the challenge is the expectation that staff will seek constant improvement. Many companies facilitate the staff development process by providing in-service training. They also use this time to keep staff informed about how the business is doing.

Communication is the cornerstone of creating a great team. Being a good communicator takes lots of time. The in-
service model creates an opportunity to educate and inform. As a busy camp director, you may be wondering how you are going to fit anything else into your day. You are already juggling many issues and may be conflicted over priorities. These feelings are shared by all business owners and managers today.

Most businesses, even the most successful and largest corporations, have limited resources. As a result, choosing the projects and activities that will result in the greatest return for your business becomes a very important task. Staff education programs, such as in-service training, should be among your highest priorities.

These programs can seem like a huge task and developing them may be a real challenge for some camp directors because of organizational dynamics and resources, but you don't have to spend a lot of money on these training programs. Consider this. If you are skeptical about this idea, think of it as an investment in yourself, your staff, and in the future of your business. If you have to, start small and build on the program in subsequent years, just don't put this off too long. Make no mistake about the importance of continuous training for staff, not to mention your own professional development. The investment of time, money, and resources made in this area will result in a big return on your investment in the future in terms of increased camper safety, customer satisfaction, and job satisfaction for staff.

In-Service Training Can Help with Staff Retention

Many summer staff are transient and may not be interested in returning to work at your camp next year. But, suppose you could influence them by helping them be a part of something that is bigger than they are - a great team. Suppose you could help them develop competency and understanding about how their efforts can help make a difference. If you could help them see that working at your camp is more than just a paycheck, perhaps they would want to come back next year. Too idealistic? Maybe! But, many camps have great programs and do great things with children because they have cultivated great staff who help them make a difference with the children they serve. The camp director can't do it alone! There is a direct connection between having a great summer and having staff who know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and why it needs to be done.

Your Risk Management Plan in Action

Continuous staff training through in-service programs creates the opportunity to live your risk management plan. Once implemented, the risk management process involves a monitoring and feedback step, which starts the process all over again. Your in-service training programs can be used to help monitor and get feedback from staff on how the risk management plan is working.

Implementing In-Service Training

One suggested structure for in-service training involves a fifteen-minute briefing with staff from different areas each day. You can meet with bunk counselors one day, kitchen staff the next, waterfront staff the next, and so on. If you have more groups of staff than days in the week, you might consider holding two meetings a day. Since time is crucial, you don't want to make the session too long; experiment with the length of the meeting and choose a time that lets you sufficiently address the issues.

These sessions should be dialogues, with staff having the opportunity to say how things are going. Seek their input on what is working and what isn't. Ask if there are events that you need to know about, such as incidents, accidents, or near misses that have occurred since your last meeting but haven't been previously reported. From time to time, enlist a member of the group to provide leadership for these sessions to discuss various issues. Come prepared to re-visit items on your precamp training list. Stress safety, wearing personal protective equipment, how to manage difficult camper behavior, risk management awareness, staff's importance as role models, and emergency plans. Highlight any problems and seek feedback on the process so it too can be constantly improved.

It may take time to smooth the rough edges, but if you can get staff to have ownership in the process, chances for successful communication and training greatly improve. Continual development of staff knowledge and understanding will result in greater competency, broader awareness, and increased staff and camper safety.

At the end of the summer, you hope that you have satisfied customers: children and youth who had fun, made new friends, and learned new skills. You hope their parents see you and your camp as a partner and resource for them as they try to help their children grow into mature, responsible, fully functioning young adults. You also hope they will want to come back next summer to experience more. Who knows, maybe even more staff members will want to return to be a part of your great team as result of your extra training efforts.

Great camps are created by visionary, entrepreneurial people, who can accomplish great things for children and families with the help of great staff. It is never too late to start your in-service training program and do great things.

Originally published in the 2001 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.