Will NJ Summer Camps Survive? What they do to find staff

Many summer camps across the country were reportedly forced to shorten their hours or close because they couldn’t find staff to work with.

According to a CNN Business article, some camps are canceling overnight programs. It has been a nightmare for families who now have to scramble for a plan B.

But Alicia Skovera, executive director of the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey, said while there is a need for seasonal workers at camps, she hasn’t heard of any cuts in fat or camp closings this season in the Garden State.

The camp industry is not immune to staffing shortages, she said. In March, the US Bureau of Labor announced that the country had 11.5 million jobs to fill and not enough workers to fill them. Skovera said the camp industry was also affected.

One of the challenges they face is that young people have a lot of options. Many have decided to work in restaurants or do an internship.

“Working at camp allows young people to really learn skills and leadership, problem solving, working outdoors and making a difference in children’s lives,” Skovera said.

Last summer, 2021, was the toughest summer for camp staff, said Andy Pritikin, owner and manager of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Burlington County. It’s been a better year, but he said there were lingering issues.

The teachers (1/3 of the workforce) are just burnt out and want their summers free, he said. Middle schoolers (1/3 of the workforce) are pushed by their parents to take summer courses and internships and not jobs like camp counselors, which he agreed with Skovera, who teaches leadership skills and communication skills.

The other third of Liberty Lake’s workforce is made up of high school students. Pritikin said they were also not encouraged by their parents to enter the workforce like previous generations. He said it’s the lowest percentage of youth employment for that age they’ve seen since they started keeping statistics at camp.

Still, Liberty Lake works doubly hard to staff its summer programs.

“We’ve spoken to many camps and we know they’re still recruiting for day and night camps,” Skovera said.

Some of the ways they recruit include word of mouth. Some offer incentives for current staff or for recommending friends. Many camps cater to former campers and post jobs on social media and job websites, she added.
Camp counselors can earn college credit by working at summer camps, Skovera said. She encourages them to work with their college and university and the camp will help them in any way possible.

Some camps offer discounted college prep test classes and discounted counseling.

“We know there is a lot of staff development happening. Some of the incentives are that the camps will pay for additional training and certifications like becoming a lifeguard, CPR and first aid training, or maybe becoming an archery instructor,” she said.

Working at camp can be listed as a summer internship on a resume for business or education, which she says is also a big incentive.

Skovera said camp costs seemed to be on par with pre-pandemic conditions and she hadn’t heard of runaway costs for this season despite inflation concerns.
She said the ACA is considering full camps this summer. Some even have waiting lists for children. The only problem is that if there is a shortage of staff, the children will not be removed from the waiting lists.

In New Jersey, it seems like a normal summer for camps. She said there are no COVID-19 mandates in place. However, there are recommendations and guidelines. Parents should ensure that the camp is inspected by the State Department of Health.

Skovera said choosing an ACA-accredited camp is the best proof of a camp’s commitment to health and safety. This means that the camp has chosen to follow 300 additional standards set by the ACA, which is far more than the Department of Health requires.

She also reminded anyone 16+ for day camp or 18+ for overnight camp and if you are still looking for a job please apply for a camp counselor job at www.acanynj.org or call the camp of your choice directly.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at [email protected]

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