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The theories to hiring, maintaining, and training camp staff are only that — theories — until they are successfully put into practice in a camp setting. In the following round table discussion, four camp directors answer questions and share their approaches to the universal concern of how to recruit, nurture, and keep quality staff, including international staff.
How have recruiting practices changed for your camp in the last five years?
Nancy Frankel — We still find that word of mouth and “growing our own” are our best sources for quality staff. We used to send printed flyers to 200-300 colleges. Now, we are using the Internet and are working to use this tool more effectively. Potential staff find us randomly, and we use Internet staffing sources. We are definitely using fewer newspaper ads than we used to — the Internet has changed that.
Vance Gilmore — I agree, the use of technology has radically changed our recruiting practices. We e-mail specific groups at several of the major colleges, and this has been a tremendous resource.
Anne Derber — We still visit colleges, but now focus on a smaller number of college campuses and spend more time on each of these campuses. The traditional job fairs don't work, so we revisit colleges several times during the school year to cultivate lasting relationships. Getting involved with campus outdoor clubs is also helpful, because these groups already have an interest in the outdoors. Additionally, our Web site and other Internet sources have proved productive.
Mike Schneider — We have not been able to rely on college hiring as we did in the past. There is less emphasis at colleges and universities on “summer camp fairs” or even “summer job fairs.” Now the norm is “job fairs” at which businesses are enticing our potential staff with internships and higher paying jobs. As it becomes more and more of a “chore” to fully staff our camps, we've come to rely on word of mouth, our in-house trainee program — growing our own, as Nancy said — and international staffing. Female staffing still seems a bit easier to accomplish. We, too, have begun to rely on the Internet now that there are such a variety of sites available — although the Internet has certainly not proved to be the answer to our staffing needs, as yet. We've found that many of the potential staff who contact us through the Internet are “grocery shopping” — looking for the perfect camp and the perfect fit. I have no problem with this, because we clearly support those who carefully choose a summer position. However, follow through on the inquiries we receive and to which we respond is not exceptional — 5 to 10 percent, at best. In addition, the Internet places us in the difficult position of having to turn down prospective staff because they are too young for our staffing needs — a very time-consuming issue that needs to be carefully checked out with each potential applicant. Although we are clear in what our requirements are, applicants who do not meet these requirements still apply.
With all the changes, what are your three top sources for quality staff?
Nancy Frankel — Returning staff and our solid CIT program; word of mouth with a $50 incentive paid to any previous staff member who recruits someone who is hired and stays for the season; and international agencies.
Mike Schneider — In-house training programs, international recruiting programs, and staff referrals.
Anne Derber — Growing our staff through the ranks and word of mouth from existing and returning staff and alumni continue to be our best sources. We provide incentives to returning staff who get their friends to submit applications.
Vance Gilmore — Since our camp is unique in that we serve chronically ill children, our hiring practices are a bit different. We use e-mail to contact pre-med students in the health-related fields. We e-mail these students at determined colleges and tell them about our program and that we are hiring for the summer. We usually have one of our former staff members who is a graduate of that college and is currently in medical school or already a doctor write the letter. For example, at Texas A & M, they have an e-mail group for all pre-med students called Aggie Doctors. We had an excellent response to our letter to this group, scheduled on campus interviews (all in one day) and hired eleven people. We also hire volunteers from our previous summers. We track over 500 volunteers who come to camp and recruit the ones we feel will work well in our program. Additionally, as with other more traditional camps, we encourage current staff to recruit and provide us with referrals.
Some of you are using international staff. Why is international staff important and what do they add to your programs and environment?
Mike Schneider — This past summer, between our two camps, we recruited over eighty international staff members, the highest amount ever. Our international staff provide the skills we need for specific sports, and especially for outdoor living and swim. We're most fortunate in that our international staff is an exceptional group. From sharing their cultures with campers and co-workers to a fine work ethic, they have been an exceptional part of our program since we first started recruiting internationals in the early 1970s.
Nancy Frankel — We've always used international staff and couldn't run the camp without them. Our New Hampshire/Vermont campers need to learn about the world, and diversity is an important part of who and what we are. Our geographic location doesn't bring much diversity to the program, so our international staff provides this quality. Additionally, we don't have the same level of skill development in the United States in pioneering — we see much stronger skills from overseas. We also hire international staff as kitchen assistants. This provides the opportunity for them to come to the United States, improve their English, and be part of a community that values their diversity. Our campers benefit from the exposure to people from other countries — an opportunity they might not get otherwise.
Anne Derber — We hire a few international staff. We use so few because of our expectations for cabin counselors who will be leading trips, and we are looking for specific skills in that area. The international staff we hire have a desire to lead trips in the wilderness, or they have previously had a Manito-Wish experience and want to continue to lead others. From that staff, we benefit not only from their expertise, but from what they can share about their countries and cultures.
Vance Gilmore — Because of the very special nature of our camp, we don't use any international staff.
What special approaches, if any, are you using to hire international staff?
Nancy Frankel — We attend the Camp America recruiting fairs overseas and hope to attend the AICE fair in Israel in the future. We also use international placement services to help us locate quality international staff.
Mike Schneider — We work exclusively through the BUNAC program. They make a special effort, from our perspective, to send very well qualified and enthusiastic staff members. Their screening process continues to provide us with the confidence that we are getting good, strong applicants.
Anne Derber — As I explained before, we hire very few — mostly those with whom we already have a relationship. We use agencies for processing visas, only.
Do your training practices differ for international staff and do you have any recommendations on how to help them adjust to your camp?
Mike Schneider — Our training methods for international staff are not different from those we use with our American staff — the training is inclusive. We do, however, have a group meeting to address their role at camp and make an extra effort to assure them that they are a special group of people and that we consider ourselves fortunate to have them as part of our community. We do the same thing, actually, for our American staff. As for adjustment, we provide a special bus to pick them up a day early to give them time to rest, overcome jet lag, and get used to the camp environment. We also try to help our international staff get rides out of camp during their time off. Even though they don't have cars, we want them to have the opportunity to spend their off days in a different environment.
Nancy Frankel — Our international staff, including kitchen assistants, when possible, are integrated into all of our precamp training. Just as Mike does, we encourage our international staff to arrive during “pre-precamp” so they can overcome jet lag and adjust to their new environment. If this isn't possible, and they arrive during precamp, we try to let them rest and adjust as they gradually join the precamp training. One of our camp administrators has the responsibility for providing support for our international group. She assists with travel plans, general adjustment, food needs, etc. We make vehicles available for rent and organize off-time trips to the city, ocean, and mountains. We also encourage short trips to town for bowling, mini-golf, ice cream, movies, or dinner out.
What is your rate of return for all staff, and what do you do in the off-season to motivate, encourage, and train staff?
Vance Gilmore — Our rate of return is between 40 and 60 percent. We send regular newsletters with updates and accomplishments to the staff. We have a reunion weekend in the fall and encourage all our previous staff to join us. In December, we mail a holiday package — a fun, clever gift along with a video of the summer — to each of the previous season's staff. For motivation and ongoing training, we send our staff to conferences and workshops at our expense, and mail them selected articles and books on specific topics to further their understanding and insight on certain topics.
Anne Derber — Our staff rate of return is smaller for the boys' camp — 45 percent — than our rate of return for the girls' camp — 60 percent. Overall, the rate of return is around 50 percent. We offer a special grant program — a staff grant that is in addition to the regular salary. Staff who are interested must write a letter stating what they will use the money for, get the application in on time, and return to work the following season. We also keep in touch through staff reunions, newsletters, and e-mail and offer on-site training for certifications throughout the year.
Nancy Frankel — Our rate of staff return is between 50 and 60 percent. We also use our Web site and e-mail to keep in touch and are starting a chat room for this off-season. We have a newsletter that we mail and have reunions locally and in London.
Mike Schneider — Approximately 60 percent of our counselors, or a bit higher, return. For our adult staff, our rate of return is better than 80 percent. We encourage our staff to return by maintaining constant communication — newsletters, group e-mails, and staff reunions. We encourage ongoing training of staff through local and national conferences and section events. The Internet plays a huge part of our daily communication with staff. Our newsletter is an appreciated source of information and a super vehicle for keeping staff up-to-date on the latest in camp “gossip” — only in the humorous sense of the word. The newsletter and e-mails help us to keep the staff thinking “camp” throughout the year. We also use these tools to offer incentives and reminders.
Originally published in the 2001 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.