Adults who work with 4-H camp counselors have always suspected that the experience provided teenagers with the workforce skills that 21st century employers are looking for. Now they have strong evidence that supports the idea.
In a 2009 pilot project, “Camp Counselor Work-based Learning,” 11 counties received Ohio 4-H Foundation Sauder grants to participate in the program and include self- and supervisor assessments similar to work-based performance appraisals. In addition, counselors completed a series of questions about their camp experience, and 4-H professionals participated in a focus group to assess the program. In the pilot counties, 275 teens were trained as camp counselors, and data were collected from 168, for a 61-percent response rate.
“We’ve always done training for camp counselors,” said Theresa Ferrari, youth development specialist for Ohio State University Extension’s 4-H program. “But for the pilot project, we asked the adults conducting the training to talk specifically about how certain skills being taught were also workforce skills that employers value. Our thinking was that even though we might be able to see how beneficial the experience is for preparing teens for the workforce, if they (the teens) can’t see it, then we’re not actually doing it.”
In any given year, about 2,500 Ohio teens act as 4-H camp counselors, Ferrari said. About 40 percent of them are new to the program each year and undergo 24 hours of training before becoming camp counselors.
For the pilot study, both the teens and the adults who worked with them were asked to measure the teens’ skills before and after their camp counseling experience in five workforce-skill categories: Thinking Skills, Communication Skills, Teamwork and Leadership, Initiative, and Professionalism. Both sets of ratings increased significantly from “before” to “after” the counseling experience, Ferrari said.
In addition, at least half the teens participating in the study were rated (in both self-assessment and by the adult working with them) as “consistently excelling,” the highest possible rating, in 12 of the 24 workforce skills being measured, including:
Skills showing professionalism, including respecting others, having a positive attitude dressing appropriately, working with others of diverse backgrounds, having good work habits and meeting deadlines.
Skills showing teamwork and leadership, including working with others to achieve goals, resolving disagreements, and supporting and encouraging others.
Skills showing initiative and communication, including being a good listener, being motivated to complete tasks and taking initiative.
Teens also were asked specifically if they made the connection between their camp counseling experience and the world of work:
85 percent said they thought about “how skills learned as a camp counselor will help me in the future.”
76 percent said they thought of “a specific way that I can use my camp counseling skills right away.”
76 percent also said they “learned about skills employers value in the 21st century.”
71 percent said they “developed a better understanding of the world of work.”
70 percent said they “looked at my role as a camp counselor as a job or work experience.”
This year, the project is expanding to 16 counties. Ferrari and her colleagues plan to use what they learn from 2009 and 2010 to develop a modified camp counselor training curriculum for use statewide in the future.
A report with details from the 2009 pilot project is online at http://youthsuccess.osu.edu.