Will NJ summer camps be open this year? What they’re doing to find staff
Many summer camps across the nation have reportedly been forced to either shorten their hours or close because they can't find staff to work.
According to a CNN Business article, some camps are canceling overnight programs. It's 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 camp employees, she has not heard of any trimming of the fat or camp closures happening this season in the Garden State.
The camp industry is not immune to staffing shortages, she said. In March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor announced the nation 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 at restaurants or take an internship.
“Working at camp allows young people really gain skills and leadership, problem-solving, working outside and making a difference in the lives of children,” Skovera said.
Last summer, 2021, was the most challenging summer for staffing ever for camps, said Andy Pritikin, owner, and director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Burlington County. This has been a better year but he said there have been some lingering issues.
Teachers (1/3 of the workforce) are simply burnt out and want their summers off, he said. College kids (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, which teaches leadership skills, and communication skills.
The other third of Liberty Lake’s workforce is made up of high school kids. Pritikin said they are also not being encouraged by their parents to enter the workforce like previous generations. He said this is the lowest percentage of youth employment for this age that they’ve experienced since they began keeping statistics at the camp.
Still, Liberty Lake is working doubly hard to staff its summer programs.
“We have talked to lots of camps and we know they are still recruiting for both day and overnight camps,” Skovera said.
Some of the ways they are recruiting include word of mouth. Some are offering incentives to current staff or for referring friends. Many camps are reaching out to former campers and they are posting jobs on social media and job websites, she added.
Camp counselors can earn college credits by working at summer camps, Skovera said. She encourages them to work with their college and university and the camp will help in any way that they can.
Some camps are offering discounted college prep test courses and discounted counseling.
“We know that there is a lot of staff development that happens. Some of the incentives are that 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 said is quite an incentive, too.
Skovera said camp costs seem to be on par with how things were pre-pandemic and she has not heard of out-of-control costs for this season despite inflation issues.
She said the ACA is looking at full camps this summer. Some even have wait-lists for children. The only issue is that if there is a staff shortage, then kids won’t be pulled off the wait lists.
In New Jersey, it looks to be a normal summer for camps. She said there are no COVID-19 mandates in place. However, there are some recommendations and guidelines. Parents should make sure the camp is inspected by the State Department of Health.
Skovera said by choosing an ACA accredited camp is the best evidence of a camp’s commitment to health and safety. That means the camp has chosen to follow an additional 300 standards set by the ACA which is far more than what the Department of Health requires.
She also reminded anyone 16 and up for a day camp or 18 and older for an overnight camp and if you’re still looking for work, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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