Directors and staff are the heartbeat of camps across the country, creating experiences and communities that support children and young adults throughout the year. But like many industries throughout the US, camps are experiencing severe, painful staffing shortages.

This past fall, while more than nine in 10 after-school program providers reported providing students with the care they need, nearly one in four say they have been unable to return to their pre-COVID capacity limits because of staffing shortages.

Meanwhile, traditional summer and winter camp providers reported long waitlists and canceled programs. In Michigan, Traverse City canceled its 2022 summer day camp program because it couldn't hire enough staff to meet the 10:1 students-to-counselor ratio required by the state. And it doesn't look as though demand is slowing. In anticipation of continued demand, parents are already adding their children to long waitlists months before spring even rolls around.

How can camp directors continue to meet their community's and staff's needs in a headline-making staffing shortage? Use the following tips and strategies to fine-tune recruitment approaches, manage existing needs, and un-tap available relief funding to keep your camp open and thrive.

Hype the Benefits of Working at Camp

As a director, you know the rising demand for camp and before- and after-school care coincides with a steep shortage of workers. Plus, now you have to compete with starting hourly wages upwards of $18 to $20. Even still, you have the playbook to tackle this.

Consider similar tactics used to enroll campers and attract volunteers and apply that to staffing efforts. Coordinate information events that speak to and showcase the benefits of being part of a camp community. According to a camp director survey by the American Camp Association, 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.

Just as you market to your campers, you must also consider your recruiting marketing funnel and the message you are delivering. Beyond the basic job description and compensation details, confirm for them that camp is more than supervising kids. Help them visualize themselves inspiring, motivating, and enriching children's lives in their community. Define what's in it for them by clarifying your staff training methods that empower them to become confident leaders who can communicate decisions and resolve conflicts.

Similar to your volunteer programs, work all your networks. Each member of your camp community, family, and alumni alike may know folks who would excel in a camp or after-school program. Mount an intentional year-round campaign that touts all the benefits, incentives, and joys of working with children.

Use Technology to Meet Your Camp Needs

During times of incredible demand, as counselor shortages mount and force many to reduce capacity or close programs, directors must consider all the tools available to help them keep their doors open. Camps and after-school programs from coast to coast are struggling to hire the staff necessary to operate at full capacity. To get around this, many organizations have had to rethink their approach to scheduling and staffing. Some have shortened program length. Others have broken their programs into mini sessions and partnered with existing community programs to maximize the children they can serve. This all requires a lot of coordination, scheduling, paperwork, and payment management. To adapt quickly to these changing dynamics, use online registration software to help manage scheduling, attendance, and payments.

It's impossible to both pivot and deliver a safe and successful experience for your campers without the right tools. Online registration helps directors quickly change course due to staffing shortages and program adjustments. When parents can easily complete registration, even as scheduling shifts, using their chosen platform on their own time, it minimizes friction and eliminates extra work for your team. An effective online registration process also gives your staff instant access to reporting metrics. With the right technology in place, directors can look at the collected data and identify where and how they can adjust their programming to avoid staffing burnout or closing their doors.

Directors can also better address unprecedented demand with digital solutions that allow you to set enrollment caps. Online registration helps manage staffing bandwidth, freeing up time they would have spent on administration tasks. It also allows you to create custom lists with registrants’ email addresses and phone numbers to share important messages and updates with parents before, during, and after the camp. With waitlist management capabilities, you don’t even need to close registration. Instead, you can easily manage enrollment and automatically notify interested parties if and when space is available. Opening lines of communication makes it easy to alert parents of what they should expect during the camp and any safety hazards, closures, or unexpected circumstances that may arise.

Access COVID Relief Funding

Although only approximately one in five after-school programs report receiving COVID relief funding, those that have received funding report being able to keep their doors open and increase program access. According to a survey conducted by the After School Alliance, among those programs that reported receiving funds from American Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief or Governor's Emergency Education Relief funding, 60 percent say it has supported staff recruitment efforts, and 45% say the funding allowed them to hire more staff.

Reach out to your district leaders to find out if funding is available for your organization, as well as how to access it.

This blog was sponsored by Active Network.

Periodically, the American Camp Association (ACA) makes timely and relevant information about products and services available to its members so they can make informed decisions for their camps. However, the ACA does not endorse products, services, or companies.