Understanding The Recruitment Pool For Staff Members

By Kim Aycock and Deb Jordan
Photos: Career Services, East Carolina University

Understanding today’s college students can help camps when recruiting staff members for the upcoming season. In the past, the typical college student recruit was 18 to 21 years of age, attended school full-time, and graduated in four years. Today’s college student is much different. Incorporating strategy adjustments based on the “new normal” is vital to a successful hiring season.

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The New Face Of College Students
One might be surprised to learn that today’s college students have a wide range of backgrounds and represent real diversity. According to the Gates Foundation, “Among college students today, nearly half (40 percent) are age 25 or older—returning to advance their career or to re-train for a new opportunity. Many students hold full-time jobs while enrolled in classes, one-quarter are parents, and many are the first in their family to attend college.” It is not uncommon to find that many students today do not attend a four-year college directly out of high school; some attend a two-year program or seek employment, while others take a gap year and travel or use that time to figure out a possible career path. (https://postsecondary.gatesfoundation.org/what-were-learning/todays-college-students/)

According to recent research, today’s college students are often described as non-traditional and it has been that way since the mid-1990s (https://www.npr.org/series/644376494/changing-face-of-college). This new student has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Is financially independent from parents

  • Has a child or other dependent

  • Is a single caregiver

  • Lacks a traditional high school diploma

  • Delays post-secondary enrollment

  • Attends school part-time

  • Is employed full-time.

Further, these numbers might explain why it can be challenging to hire male staff members; more than half of college students (56 percent) are female (as opposed to an almost 50-50 split 10 to 15 years ago). Partnering with a camp that hires predominantly female staff members to obtain male staff referrals is one angle some camps are using to combat this problem. It is also interesting that only 62 percent of students go to school full-time, and a similar percentage of students attend four-year schools. The number of part-time students and those attending two-year programs has risen in recent years—mostly due to the cost of higher education. Another statistic that has changed over time is the percentage of students living on campus, less than half of students today (46 percent). Those living on campus tend to be younger (18 or 19 years old), so it may be worth setting up recruitment tables in the lobbies of residence halls to reach this age group.

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Students of color are going to college in increasing numbers as 44 percent of students are non-white. With a historical lack of exposure to the outdoors as a recreational space for blacks, recruiting may continue to be a challenge to hire staff members who represent a range of racial and ethnic diversities. Some camps are beginning to recruit at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to enhance the likelihood of finding racially and ethnically diverse staff members. A list of HBCUs can be found by doing a Google search; another avenue might be reaching out to smaller universities that have intentionally recruited a diverse student body. Forming relationships with nonprofits that promote leadership in diverse populations may also attract more applicants.

With 14 percent of the student population taking classes online, it is possible that some students are never on campus; in fact, some of them may even live in another geographic location. The drop in numbers for both in-person classes and on-campus living may affect the traffic flow through the main areas of campus, such as the student center.

Show The Value
So, what does this mean in terms of recruiting college-age staff members? First, it is important to recognize that many college students see the summer season as a focused and condensed time to make money to pay for tuition. Thus, it is important to demonstrate the true money-making value of working at camp. When the cost of food, lodging, laundry, and other living essentials are covered, staff members may well have more take-home pay at the end of a summer working at camp than if they worked a more traditional job. This is important to communicate to prospective hires.

Knowing that many potential staff members are older than 21 and have caregiver responsibilities at home may influence camps to look at two-year (community colleges) and vocational schools to recruit more traditional-aged staff members (ages 18 to 21). Most two-year schools have job fairs at various times throughout the year. Speaking with high school guidance counselors may be another tactic because they help students determine college readiness and possible career paths.

Consider The Unconventional
Another idea to consider is hiring older individuals to fill staff positions, such as a kitchen helper, medical staff person, program coordinator, or maintenance worker. Intergenerational staffing may be an answer to recruitment as population changes continue (the general population is aging as baby boomers have reached retirement years). In addition, opening common staffing positions to people with children is a way to make working at camp attractive; this may be particularly helpful to those camps that offer long-term, overnight camp programs where staff members’ children can participate.

A dilemma faced by most camps is how to reach distance-education students—those who are not on a college campus or who make few trips to campus. Contacting the career-services office on campus and asking how it provides services to long-distance students can provide further ideas for reaching out to those individuals. Another tip is to include the words “summer job” or “part-time job” in postings on job-listing websites to optimize web search results.

It’s true that today’s college students look quite different than those of the past generation. This acknowledgment requires some creativity on the part of camps in finding and recruiting those who would be interested in and benefit from working in a camp setting. We hope that some of these ideas will be helpful and even generate other recruitment strategies!

Debra Jordan, Re.D., is a professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at East Carolina University and has worked at camps and with the ACA Southeastern region for many years. Reach her at jordand@ecu.edu.

Kim Aycock, MST, has more than 30 years of experience blending the skills of a master teacher with the knowledge of a seasoned camp expert. She trains camp staff at all levels and speaks professionally at regional and national conferences. Reach her at kimdaycock@gmail.com.

Deb and Kim are the co-leaders of ACA’s Task Force, Project Real Job; its purpose is to examine issues related to summer-camp employment and support efforts to recruit, hire, and retain summer staff and position summer camp employment as a valuable career readiness experience.