Working at Camp Puts Millennials on the Path to Success (Today More Than Ever)

There has been a viral video by TED Talk speaker Simon Sinek about millennials in the workplace that has been very hot over social media newsfeeds during recent weeks. If you haven’t seen it, it is a must- check it out here. Then, read on!

In summary, the video suggests the millennial generation is struggling in the real world because they were not given the tools and social skills needed to survive and thrive in a corporate work environment. It then goes on to challenge corporations to find better ways to nurture and mentor millennials instead of throwing their hands in the air.

As camp professionals, we have had the opportunity to work with, coach, raise, mentor and employ hundreds of millennials over the past 27 years. We have witnessed the evolution of what Mr. Sinek discusses in his interview first hand. He talks about how the millennial generation is often characterized as “entitled, narcissistic and unfocused”. They want to work at a “place with a purpose, to make an impact, that has free food and bean bags”. Immediately, our ears perked up when we heard this, because at camp, we’ve got most of that covered!

We make a difference in kid’s lives- check! What’s better than camp food – check! And 235 acres of rolling hills, lakes, ziplines and outdoors is way cooler than bean bags – check! But then he went on to talk about why millennials are finding the workplace so challenging (and why corporations are so frustrated by them as a generation). His theory is that millennials are the product of four factors: parenting skills, technology, impatience and their environment.

When we looked at these factors more closely, we came to the conclusion that camp already addresses the issues that Mr. Sinek is challenging corporations to fix, giving millennials who attend or work at camp an advantage. Here’s why:

  1. Parenting. At camp we aim to make everyone feel special, mentored and shine, but they need to earn it. We do not give out participation medals and you need to earn leadership positions. Not everyone gets to be a Group Leader or an Olympics General. Not everyone gets to be a counselor for the group of kids they may have wanted to. We make our decisions for the “good of camp” in order for our camp to run smoothly and thrive. We see potential in ways that sometimes our staff may not see in themselves. We give our staff the training, mentoring and tools to succeed.  We provide a nurturing, supportive environment that will always be there to catch them if they fall. We publicly acknowledge and reward our staff for achievements just as we would our campers. Staff deserve feedback and praise just like campers do!
  2. Technology. Social media and cellphones simply do not have a place at camp. That means young adults get the opportunity for the first time to learn how to build relationships with co-workers, campers and senior staff that are based on trust, honesty and genuine interest in one another. Moreover, they learn how to practice coping with stress without relying on technology. In Mr. Sinek’s interview he talks about “no cellphones in the conference room” so that coworkers can get to know each other and build trust before meetings begin. This is daily life at camp 24/7 for seven weeks.
  3. Impatience. At camp, life is blissfully old school. We are nestled in the woods in the middle of the Pocono Mountains. There is no Netflix to binge watch, or even TV! If they want someone’s opinion of their outfit, they need to ask them in person to give an actual thumb’s up or down. We have a daily schedule that everyone follows. Sometimes our evening activities run late and counselors may have to wait an extra 30 minutes before they can go into town for their night off with friends. And try being in charge of a group of 7-year old kids and get them to clean a bunk…now that takes patience!
  4. Environment.  Working at camp is a journey, not just a single summer. Our goal for our staff members is that they come back year after year to grow, make an impact and continue to be rewarded and challenged (which is no different for our campers). We give them experiences, opportunities and traditions to look forward to. Which is why if you ask a counselor who worked at camp for four years about their experience, it will be very different than if you ask a counselor who only worked at camp for one summer. Circling back to what Mr. Sinek said that the beginning of his interview, making an impact takes time, work, effort and patience. At camp, we do everything in our power to create an environment and culture where patience, loyalty and paying your dues has its rewards.

The opportunity and value that growing up and working at camp provides is greater than ever. The experience at camp helps produce long-term proven success.

A recent article published by Mark Weller on LinkedIn said it best, “If companies should be hiring anyone, it should be camp counselors. Camp counselors are arguably some of the most patient, caring, hard-working individuals out there, and companies would be lucky to have them on their staff.” When you work at camp you have an advantage in learning the skills that hiring managers are looking for; skills like flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity, accountability, leadership and responsibility. When we reach out to former counselors, they tell us that the skills they learned at camp set them apart from their coworkers and prepared them for the “real world” better than their office internships.

So we agree that every generation is given its own challenges and this generation has its own fair share. Parenting, technology, impatience and environment may be obstacles, but at camp, we see these as opportunities.

We hope that parents continue to see the critical importance for their millennial children to work at camp, as corporations (and internships) fail to find ways to mentor this generation. We hope millennials recognize the value of their experiences at camp and how they translate into the workplace. We hope that employers learn from the camp industry as they struggle to motivate millennials. In the meantime, if they happen to see “Camp Counselor” on a candidate’s resume, they should confidently move it to the top of the pile!

For testimonials on how working at camp made an impact on our former counselor’s careers, click here.

Camp Is For Life!

When we attended the American Camp Association’s Tri-State Conference this Spring, we went to many excellent, educational and inspiring seminars. One that was particularly intriguing, but told us something we have known for years, is that “Camp Creates Advantage.”

Dozens of camp professionals in the room nodded their heads when hearing that “over the last five years, a growing tidal wave of research makes it clear that there are a certain set of skills that predict for long-term success in life — and those are the skills being taught at summer camp.”

Of course at camp, there are opportunities for kids to make good friends, build confidence, independence, unplug and reconnect with nature. These are many of the reasons that parents initially consider camp for the summer. But what camp builds even better than school are the 21st century skills needed for success in today’s world. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills reports that academic institutions and employers are seeking candidates with skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, grit, self-control, optimism and leadership. Look no further than camp!

Which got us thinking about a bigger idea than camp creates advantage… camp is for life. Camp is the one place that prepares you for the real world, even though it may seemingly be nestled in the woods, tucked away from reality. At camp, you live in a bunk with a dozen campers and staff and you need to find common ground and learn how to get on the same page. You learn how to make decisions as a group and work (and live) with people who may be different than you. You learn to tackle challenges as a team, wait your turn, advocate for yourself, create magical skits and silly songs and look at the bright side of life (every day isn’t sunny and not every day is pizza day!). You learn how to hold back when things get heated and how to make people want to work and live along side of you. All of these skills get students ready for the independent college and post-grad years and gives them confidence and coping skills that they cannot get under their parents’ roof.

Why else is camp for life? Princeton’s Dean of Admissions was quoted in an article in the New York Times as saying, “If you have gone to a summer camp that you love, please return to it in the next few summers. Being a senior leader at camp or working as a counselor can be a rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful experience.” While we can appreciate all of the travel and educational opportunities that are offered to students outside of camp, camp nurtures high-quality people (a.k.a. “menches”) who will ultimately give back to their communities and make a difference in the world.

And what about staff? Being a counselor at camp gives you real-world skills and then some. Camp provides endless leadership opportunities including the art of persuasion (sometimes with a group of 8 year olds), communication (with senior staff and their peers), conflict/resolution, creativity and you learn how to win friends and influence people! Which is why we loved the recent MTV news article “Why I’m a Twentysomething Who Still Goes to Summer Camp“! We strongly recommend that camp is a prominent feature of a staff member’s resume and wrote a very popular blog called “How to Make Camp Counselor The Best Thing on Your Resume.” Our former staff will certainly reiterate that camp helped them learn more about themselves than any internship or job and it helped shape the kind of employee they would become.

So, revisiting the idea that “camp creates advantage.” Did you go to summer camp? How do you think it made you into the person you are today? What leadership opportunities did you get that helped you achieve your academic and professional goals? What kind of networking opportunities did your camp family provide to help you succeed? If you had a positive experience at your camp like the ones our campers and staff have at Camp Towanda, we think you will unanimously agree that camp creates advantage and camp is for life. It isn’t just about getting better at a sport or roasting s’mores. It is about so much more. The benefit of camp is long lasting and goes well beyond the years you attend.

Did camp give you an advantage? Please share in the comments.

For additional reading about this topic:

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
Teach Your Children Well by Madeline White
Homesick and Happy by Michael Thompson Phd.
The Camp Counselor vs. The Intern
The Argument We Must Learn To Make: Camp Creates Advantage

About Camp Towanda:
Camp Towanda is an independent, traditional, co-ed sleep-away camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. It is privately owned, operated and directed by Mitch and Stephanie Reiter. For over 90 years, Camp Towanda has continued to define what camp should really be. Our program offers state-of-the-art facilities, an excellent and professional athletic department, waterfront, extensive arts, drama and adventure programs, culinary cooking classes, and special events. We are highly regarded and respected as an industry leader and are involved in giving back to various organizations throughout the year. Camp Towanda is accredited by the American Camp Association and a member of the Camp-Alert-Network, Wayne County Camp Association, Camp Owners and Directors Association and the Pennsylvania Camp Association.