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Summer camp: The secret path to career readiness

By Andy Pritikin

Will your child be prepared for life after graduation? First, they will have to get a job. And while there may seem to be a job shortage out there, it’s actually being identified as a “skills mismatch.” This past August, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24 seeking work) at 12.7 percent, the highest in the history of the statistic, yet there are 5 million unfilled jobs. Employers are calling it a talent shortage and a hiring crisis, and a few months ago, 32 of the 50 state governors cited “career readiness” as the top priority in their state.

It only makes sense that this is an issue. While most of us are formally educated for 15+ years, a typical computer can learn all the facts we learned in high school and college in a matter of seconds. As technology eliminates some jobs, it does create others, and skills like cooperation, empathy and flexibility have now become increasingly vital in the modern-day workforce.

The “three R’s” are just so last century! According to new research by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the most jobs, and best-paying jobs since 2000, require high social and communication skills. The New York Times points out that even at tech jobs like Google, where it was assumed that technical expertise would determine their best managerial candidates, the best managers proved to be those who made time for one-on-one meetings, helped colleagues work through problems, and took an interest in their lives — in other words, experts in social skills.

Business consultant Bruce Tulgan’s surveyed managers in his new book, “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap,” and below is what they (and most of my business owner friends) say about their new hires:

  • “They just don’t know how to behave professionally.”
  • “They arrive late, leave early, dress inappropriately, and spend too much time on social media.”
  • “They know how to text but they don’t know how to write a memo.”
  • “They don’t know what to say and what not to say or how to behave in meetings.”
  • “They don’t know how to think, learn, or communicate without checking a device.”
  • “They don’t have enough respect for authority, and don’t know the first thing about good citizenship, service or teamwork.”

    According to Tulgan, “Young people are hired for their hard skills, and fired for their (lack of) soft skills.” Top students are entering the workforce lacking the most important skills that businesses are seeking, skills the Partnership for 21st Learning ( calls the “four C’s” — Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity. While our educational system slowly integrates noncognitive/character/soft skills into the curriculum, there is a place where these attributes have been taught with great results for over 100 years: summer camp. Camp is a place where test scores and the pressures of achievement that children are subjected to all school year are tossed out the window. Valuable life skills are learned within a structured yet relaxed social setting, outside in the beauty of nature, with supportive counselors guiding children to do the right thing. Camp is a place where being kind is celebrated, and where groups of campers working together are recognized for their creativity and teamwork. It’s a place where young people are challenged and encouraged to expand their comfort zones, try new experiences, meet new people, and discover talents and interests that they never knew they had.

    Over 10 million lucky children attend summer camp in the United States each year, but millions more well-meaning families instead choose to allow their children to sit home and stare at screens for the national average of 7.5 hours per day (or more). In their defense, most of these parents never attended camp and experienced its benefits first hand, so they do not necessarily value the experience.

    In an effort to enlighten the uninitiated, many of the best American Camp Association Camps have been measuring outcomes of their campers and their camp families, to share hard data of their success. They measure independence, teamwork, integrity, aspiration and friendship skills.

    So while the workforce diversifies to match the ever-changing needs of the 21st century, summer camp continues to play a vital role in youth (and workforce) development: nurturing creativity, judgment, teamwork and all the things that employers are seeking, and computers will never be programmed to do!

Andy Pritikin is the president of the American Camp Association, New York/New Jersey, as well as the owner/director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Mansfield Township. Andy speaks as an expert in summer camp and youth development throughout the country, as well as recently in China as the keynote speaker at the first-ever Chinese Camp Education Conference. For more information, visit

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