Camp builds the skills and attributes most needed in the 21st-century workforce. We have all witnessed the life-changing impacts that camp can have on campers and summer staff members. Many of us have experienced these impacts personally. We now have reliable studies that have demonstrated repeatedly that a weeklong camp experience has consistent and lasting impacts on young people’s self-confidence, social skills, leadership, affinity for nature, spiritual growth, and many more positive outcomes. We also know that a summer working at camp has profound impacts on the staff members, but we don’t always make this case as clear as we make the case for camper impacts. As we enter the busy recruiting season, we encounter once again the challenging questions that potential summer staff are facing.
- Do I want to spend a whole summer tied to a job like camp?
- Will I make enough money?
- Wouldn’t it be better to get an internship?
Helping Emerging Adults Thrive
These emerging adults face intense pressure to figure out their lives. They are in the middle of a self-improvement project that demands them to complete a degree, get good grades, determine their lifelong career, establish themselves as a competent adult, find a life companion, and do it all while living their best lives before the crushing demands of adulting and an aging body grind the joy and vitality out of them. No wonder anxiety is on the rise with this age group and things like gap years are in vogue!
Career centers, campus ministries, professors, and camp directors are all on the same page: we want to help these young people thrive and ultimately succeed in the developmental tasks of emerging adulthood. When we support one another and work together, all of our ministries benefit. As camp professionals, it is essential to see how our ministries compliment the important work of others.
Here are the facts: the skills that camp staff most consistently build are the exact skills that employers identify as most needed when entering the workforce.
The Career Readiness Gap
The Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted a survey of more than 1,000 business executives and hiring managers. The top learning outcomes they identified for career readiness were not academically oriented. The skills they valued most were experience-based: effective oral communication, critical thinking/reasoning, ethical judgment, ability to work in a team, ability to work independently, and self-motivation/initiative. Crucially, these were also the areas in which they saw the greatest gaps in readiness among recent college graduates. Employers are clear: most college graduates are not ready for the workforce. Even if they are qualified on paper, many lack the skills they need to succeed.
Camp can help. Serving on summer camp staff consistently builds the skills most coveted in the workforce. Several recent peer-reviewed studies, particularly those from ACA, HoneyRock, and Sacred Playgrounds, demonstrate the value of serving on camp staff.
Camp Builds Vocational Clarity
Emerging adults are under tremendous pressure to figure out their life path. Often, they are pressured into internships in a specific field without clarity as to where God is calling them. Camp creates opportunity for reflection, discernment, and holy wondering. There is time for conversation with like-minded peers and mentors. There is space to ask and listen for what God has planned for them. In our study of Lutheran and United Methodist camp staff, 80% agreed, “My experiences at camp have given me greater clarity on my life direction and career.”
Camp Builds Faithful Leaders
Camp is consistently formational for the faith lives of summer staff members, and it builds leaders for God’s Church. This includes both ordained clergy (an impressive 40% of ELCA ministers an more than half of bishops served on camp staff) and lay leaders who work in other fields. In the ACA study, task leadership was the second-most consistent area of growth. In our study of Lutheran summer staff, leadership was the most consistent area of growth. This means they learn the vital skills that employers want, such as initiative and ethical decision making.
Camp Builds Resilient Humans
Camp is challenging work that builds character, grit, and resilience. Staff learn the value of hard work, seeing the growth and results in real time. They learn how to address problems in real- world contexts, and they learn that they can accomplish hard things. Resilience/grit was the second-most consistent area of growth among Christian camp staff in the HoneyRock study. In our study of Lutheran staff, 90% agreed that the experience was challenging and 90% agreed that they grew in self-confidence.
Camp Builds Social Skills
Camp facilitates connections and experiences that build the social skills so often lacking among emerging adults in the digital age. Staff build the relational skills needed to thrive in team environments in the workforce. This was the most consistent and significant area of growth identified in both the ACA study (“social awareness”) and the HoneyRock study (“teamwork”). The Lutheran staff that we studied also grew in this area, creating lasting friendships and learning how to rely on one another. 87% of Lutheran staff agreed, “When I was feeling down, exhausted, or not at my best, other staff helped and supported me.”
Camp Builds Resumes
Staff are probably not motivated to work at your camp because they think it will be a good career move. They want to have new experiences, meet new people, and serve others. However, concerns about their career path might give them pause, and they might cause well-meaning mentors in campus ministry or a career center to guide them elsewhere. The data are clear that serving on camp staff is more than a fun growing opportunity or a chance to sacrifice a summer in service of God and others. Serving on camp staff also looks great on a resume. Especially for those who are still discerning their career path, it is likely more valuable than an internship in a specific field. Of course, it is especially valuable for the career path of those entering fields like education, outdoor recreation, and ministry. But it is also clear that employers in a variety of fields value an experience like serving on camp staff.
Get the data in front of those who influence the decisions of emerging adults. Get the data in front of potential summer staff themselves. It could be the deciding factor that helps them say yes to the most impactful summer of their lives.