I have been blessed by a wonderful career as a camp director and educator in our field. It has been gratifying to see the lives of generations of campers and staff members transformed over the years. I know how deeply impactful camp experiences can be, but I’m always looking for new expert evidence to help the field communicate why camp experiences are essential for all American children and youth.

Last month I attended an intriguing presentation that forecasted what work will be like in a highly automated society in 2040 and the competencies that will be essential for success in the future workplace. The forecast calls for redefining K–12 readiness to include greater collaboration with out-of-school-time programs like camp to place a greater emphasis on core social-emotional skills that camp experiences provide, such as individual awareness, social awareness, and deep self-knowledge. This is an excellent context for camp today and for many generations to come.

In their recent report, Knowledge Works’ Foresight team reveals that the employment landscape in 2040 will be different. Work will be:

Grounded in relating — a high premium will be placed on a person’s ability to be collaborative, team-driven, collegial, and inclusive.

Interwoven with learning — successful workers will be competent at frequent adaptation, developing new skills, and constant learning.

Modularized and recombined — talented workers will be adept problem solvers able to break down and reinvent processes and manage ambiguity in highly dynamic situations.

Data and metrics driven — adroit workers will be very comfortable with giving and receiving feedback, constant improvement, and learning (Prince, Saveri & Swanson, 2017).

Highly compensated work in the future will shift to fields that leverage human emotions, relationship-building skills, decision-making, creative thinking, and production in a human-centered economy. Excellent professions will be those that engage uniquely human skills and competencies, while automation will be fully leveraged in ways we cannot imagine today.

To be well suited for work success in 2040, children today must develop a strong inner-self. They must learn resilience, reflection, and be able to develop positive, strong connections. Core social-emotional skills are key. Learning to interpret and communicate information about the world and other people is essential. Mastering executive functions, such as decision-making, attentiveness, relationship-building, as well as physical and mental health and life-long learning, is also crucial. To be successful, young people must develop a keen understanding of themselves to more thoughtfully regulate their emotions. They must also develop greater social awareness, empathy, and perspective of others. On top of that, future work will require greater adaptability, humility, and confidence. Camp experiences are especially beneficial in providing all of these competencies to children and teens.

Today our country is faced with a frightening teen mental health crisis. Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed in recent years. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the average eight- to 18-year-old is plugged into a digital media device for over seven hours a day (2010). Our kids are logging excessive screen time and much less in-person social interaction than they need. As a result, they are experiencing increased loneliness, depression, and worse. How will Generation Z learn the necessary core social-emotional skills they will need to compete in the 2040 workforce?

Camp for every American child and teen is the answer. Camp professionals must take steps to ensure their camp programs are outstanding learning ecosystems where children can practice active communication, taking initiative, collaboration, positive risk-taking, and teamwork.

Camp staff training must have social-emotional learning at its center, teaching staff to ask meaningful, respectful questions of campers to help their curiosity and their confidence grow. Camper-staff mentor relationships should emphasize openness, trust, safety, self-discovery, and empathy.

Consider also that schools will likely seek to partner with camps to better prepare children for the future. Camp professionals should actively seek these partnerships to imagine new education systems where camps and schools work closely together to create better social-emotional learning outcomes in K–12 education.

Camp experiences are more essential to ensuring positive futures for our children today than ever before. I look forward to discussing these developments and the work ahead during our time together at the ACA National Conference in Orlando, Florida, this February 20–23, 2018. See you there!


The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation. (2010, January 20). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Retrieved from kff.org/other/event/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of/

Prince, K., Saveri, A., & Swanson, J. (2017, June 12). Forecast 4.0: The future of learning: Redefining readiness from the inside out. KnowledgeWorks. Retrieved from knowledgeworks.org/sites/default/files/u1/redefining-readiness.pdf