THE BLOG
01/20/2017 12:50 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2018

Working At Camp Puts Millennials On The Path To Success (Today More Than Ever)

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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 are 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 you want someone's opinion of your outfit, you 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.

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 (who are celebrating 27 years as owners and directors).