Developmental Experiences in Seasonal Employment: A National Mixed-Methods Study of Camp Staff




As the labor market has tightened, seasonal recreation employers have struggled to find and hire quality staff. Operating under tight budgetary constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many seasonal employers are looking for alternatives to pay increases to attract staff. Emerging adults, defined as people between 18 and 29 years of age, are commonly seeking seasonal employment to complement their school schedules during the summer months. Therefore, adding non-monetary value to these seasonable employment experiences may encourage further interest from emerging adults. Emerging adults are generally focused on understanding who they are and what they want out of life. This type of learning is often facilitated through experiences that offer opportunities to be socially and emotionally supported (Yohalem et al., 2007), build meaningful relationships with others (Lerner & Lerner, 2013), try and experiment in new contexts and activities (Durlak et al., 2010), and contribute in significant ways (Eccles & Gootman, 2002). Collectively, such experiences are often termed developmental experiences (Nagaoka et al., 2015). Seasonal employment experiences that are developmental offer emerging adults non-monetary value that they may find attractive. Therefore, the purpose of this paper was to understand developmental experiences reported by emerging adult summer camp employees as a way to inform seasonal staffing efforts. Participants were 254 individuals (Mage = 19.8 years), majority female (68.9%) and White (76%) who were recruited from a longitudinal study and were camp staff during summer 2018. A convergent design was used, including data from semi-structured interviews and quantitative surveys. Qualitative data were analyzed inductively and deductively, and within-subjects designs (RMANOVAs and paired t-tests) were used to analyze quantitative data. The reported employment experiences generally aligned with the existing literature on important characteristics of developmental experiences and were categorized as experiential and engaging activities, positive social and emotional climate, supportive relationships, and meaningful contributions. An additional characteristic, less consistent with the extant literature, separate time and space, was also present. Implications for practice are offered, highlighting ways to facilitate developmental experiences for camp staff and reduce characteristics that may hinder developmental experiences.





Regular Papers