Canadian summer time camp operators dealing with post-pandemic employees shortages, climbing prices – Coast Mountain Information


Though health restrictions have been lifted and demand has returned, summer camp operators across the country say they are struggling with staffing issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craig Douglas, executive director of Timberline Ranch in Maple Ridge, BC, said Saturday it has been harder to hire staff this year than it has been in any of the previous 16 years he has been with the organization.

Douglas, also vice president of the British Columbia Camps Association, said Timberline is not alone: ​​Many camp operators have been forced to cut programs or take on fewer campers because they can’t find enough people to work.

“Unfortunately, the end result is that fewer children are able to go to camp this summer,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many warehouses to close completely in 2020 and then work under severe restrictions last summer. This year, with health restrictions all but gone, operators were looking forward to a return to normal and, in the case of private camps, to recovering losses, Douglas said.

But the closures cut off an important source of staff for many camps, he added. Campers retiring from the summer programs will often return to work as consultants over the next few years, and operators rely on that pipeline, he said. The COVID-19 pandemic has broken that link in the chain.

Restaurants and retail stores are also struggling to find employees, he said, meaning aspiring warehouse consultants have a variety of summer jobs to choose from.

Timberline, a charity, has increased salaries, shortened the workweek and set up several employee activities and perks to attract workers, Douglas said. The camp typically employs around 80 staff for its 24-day campers and 144 overnight guests. With staff training beginning Friday, he said, the organization is still about five key people short.

In Ontario, Raf Choudhury is also scrambling to recruit staff for his summer camps at Baseline Sports in the north Toronto area. Choudhury typically hires between 15 and 20 people each summer, but he’s only been able to hire five so far this year.

“I feel like demand is greater, but we can’t keep up with demand due to staffing issues,” Choudhury said.

“Even if I wanted to expand and go to other locations, that’s not feasible at the moment.”

Choudhury also hires young people — typically teenagers between the ages of 18 and 20 — to oversee its three outdoor sports camps. After two years of a global pandemic, they appear to have other priorities, he said.

“I think people realize there’s more work to be done out there, and they’re willing to sacrifice work for it,” he said.

Nick Georgiade, the director of Camp Temagami in northeastern Ontario, said recruiting is a challenge for him each year, and so far this year he hasn’t had a harder time finding people.

Rather, this year’s challenges have come from the courses and certifications required to work at Camp Temagami, which offers canoeing in areas as remote as Labrador, he said.

During the pandemic, these first aid and wilderness survival courses were not offered, meaning the staff leading the trips that year required a lot of expensive, time-consuming training and recertification. Georgiade said his company arranged and paid for it.

“Basically, you have to make it as easy as possible for them, otherwise it’s a barrier to entry,” he says.

It’s another significant expense in a year of high inflation, he said, adding he expects food costs alone to be 20 to 25 percent higher this year.

“The cost of everything has increased dramatically,” he said. “And our prices were set in September for this summer.”

– Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press