The Well-Trained Staff

Welcome to the debut of Camp Business’s new column on staff training. Dr. Chris Thurber, one of the most sought-after camp consultants, responds to reader queries, and offers cutting-edge, turnkey content that contemporary camp directors can use right away to prime their camp’s most powerful asset–the staff.

“Hey, Chris, beyond training staff in the specifics, such as first-aid and CPR, I’m searching for the transcendent principles that will help me assemble a solid staff team this summer. What have you got?”

–Ricky Wright, Director of Mystic Lake YMCA Camp, Lake, Mich.

Thanks for this timely question, Ricky. Staff training is more complex and involved than ever. Seasoned directors can remember the days when gathering their college-age staff together for a weekend of hanging tennis nets, putting in the rowboat dock, and singing camp songs was … well … all they did for staff training.

These days, the convergence of four factors have transformed that casual weekend into a formal curriculum that sometimes lasts ten days or more:

1. Expanded safety laws and accreditation standards in human resources

2. Bold increases in camping industry professionalism

3. Legitimate concerns about lawsuits stemming from negligent hiring and training practices

4. Sensible requests from new staff to receive professional training that cultivates competitive management and leadership skills they can pitch in the non-camp job market.

So here are ten practices that will help every camp director construct a staff dream team. See what you can do to customize these ideas to best meet your camp’s mission.

1) Interview thoroughly

Never do “paper hires,” where staff is selected after only scanning a fax of resumes. Insist on face-to-face interviews for all staff. You’re a good judge of character, or you wouldn’t be a camp director. Put that asset to work in a proper interview that realistically assesses a candidate’s ability to care for other people’s children. My favorite interview techniques: Begin by saying, “Sing a song for me,” or “Tell me a campfire story.” Bring some camper-age children (yours or a friend’s) to the interview, and see how the candidate interacts with them. Be sure to provide a realistic and complete description of the job, and ask the candidate what he or she anticipates the challenges to be.

2) Incentivize certifications

Who on staff should have first-aid and CPR? That’s right–everyone. To increase participation in pre-camp certification, buddy up with a few neighboring camps, and conduct it all on-site with expert trainers. Or, pay staff a bonus to acquire certifications before staff training even begins. And yes, promise to reimburse them the cost of the course. Visit www.redcross.org and click “Getting Trained” to learn more.

3) Conduct online pre-camp staff training

Gone are the days of being able to cover all aspects of child development, skillful discipline, effective communication, leadership and management in just a week. (Actually, did those days ever exist?) Today’s camp staffs are of a generation that learns everything online, so feed them what they need–online video training modules. Take a test drive at www.ExpertOnlineTraining.com.

4) Discuss the substance-use policy

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