How to Have a Summer Camp Internship

This year, more colleges and universities are requiring students to fill summer internship credits making the summer internship the camp industry’s biggest competitor for college aged staff.  

Internships are intended to provide learning opportunities, develop leadership and offer a chance to assume responsibilities in a field of interest. In many cases however, internships at large corporations are “below entry level jobs” with eager students relegated to spending their summer making copies, picking up lunch orders, and filling coffee cups with no real chance to assume responsibilities or show leadership potential.  

Now think about the leadership opportunities and responsibilities staff at your camp have every day of the summer. Where does a college student have the most chance for meaningful growth? The answer, of course, is camp!

So, how can your camp use internships to help staff? With very little effort, your summer camp can offer fulfilling internships to your staff with the bonus of providing stronger job skill development than most corporate internships. 

How does a camp get started?

Your camp already has maybe the widest variety of options for college aged students to earn internship credits of any business out there. Health services, recreation, hospitality, accounting, marketing, agronomy, computer science, etc, etc, etc – the potential list is huge!

Internships at camp have been around for a long time and although some camps handle the internship process very well, it seems obvious from the large number of camps not utilizing internships that many camps are unclear of how to start. 

CampStaff reached out to Jolly Corley, staffing director at Camp Robindel in New Hampshire, for advice on getting an internship program started at camp. Jolly has successfully offered summer internships at Robindel for many years and was happy to share her expertise. 

Jolly and I talked about the tangibles of how to make an internship work (more on that in a second). Before we even get to the “how” of making an internship work, Jolly recommends coming up with 3-5 skills your camp can give an intern by the end of the summer.

CampStaff Asked, “What can you give an intern as a skill that they may need?”

The answer to this will be different for each camp. Look at your camp’s values, your message, your program – what type of person comes out of your camp at the end of the summer? For example, are you aiming for your intern to be able to think on their feet with creative programming by the end of the summer, or do you run a more structured program where the outcome may be that the intern can work as a member of a larger team and work within the confines of the boundaries set forth in the program?

Jolly and I spoke about soft skills vs. hard skills. As a camp industry, we pride ourselves on teaching our staff the soft skills of life; creative thinking, teamwork, decision making, time management, motivation, flexibility, problem solving, critical thinking skills, and conflict resolution, just to name a few. 

These are some of soft skills that your intern may be taking away with them at the end of the summer. Or perhaps you may want to focus your internship on the hard skills of a program; ie. If your waterfront director is using his/her job as an internship, his/her skills may be safety, protocol, staff management, scheduling, and procedures.

In writing, your guideline will look like : “At the end of the summer interning with us at Camp XXX, you will be able to x,y, and z”. 

Once you are able to define what you can offer an intern, begin thinking of how to go about hiring staff who can use their camp job as an intern. Yes, the tangibles of making this whole system work!

CampStaff Asked, “Is it best to set up an internship “as is” or can you customize the internship for each intern?

Jolly gave the example of her standing position yearly of “event planner” as an internship. This is a desired position and she opens it only to returning staff (for a variety of reasons). She also has openings for internships that she tailor -fits to staff, depending on their major and the requirements needed to be met. 

Camp is fortunately similar to a small town, complete with every job skill imaginable and a need for various people with various skill sets. Thinking outside of the box may allow you to hire that highly sought after staff member AND offer a salary AND internship. Jolly recounted the story of re-hiring one of her best staff members while being able to offer her an internship in civil engineering.

CampStaff Asked, “After you have set up the internship with an employee, what are the  obligations as a camp director/staffing director in terms of follow-up?”

For an informal internship, as often is the case with international staff, usually a written reference once a summer. 

For a formal internship, possibly some initial paperwork, meetings over the course of the summer, and a follow up to the initial paperwork

Jolly gave a great tip for the meeting with staff during the summer; she offers them a reading list of books and/or articles. When the interns come to a weekly meeting with her, she can reference the reading as a starting point for conversation with the intern and apply it directly to the experience the intern is having at camp.

CampStaff Asked, “Do interns get paid while working at camp?”

Yes, please pay them.

CampStaff Asked, “Are there enough hours in the summer to fulfill the needs of an internship?”

Yes, working 12 hour days for 6 days for 8 weeks will more than fulfill a typical 400 or 480 hour requirement. When listed, most internships at colleges will state “for the full semester”. What Jolly has found that when the prospective intern talks with their college advisor to explain the situation of hours worked, advisors view the summer camp experience as a full internship requirement. 

We hope these tips help camps who have been thinking about offering internships, but didn’t quite understand them. If you have questions, reach out to us at CampStaff. 

photo credit Camp Robindel

Looking for camp staff? Visit www.campstaff.com and begin searching for staff today. We’ve been connecting camps and staff since 1996; let us help you find the perfect summer staff!

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