As summer turns to fall, it is back to “business as usual” at campus rec centers. Student employees — both seasoned returnees and fresh-faced new hires — are on-board and playing an invaluable role in the operation of these rec centers and campus rec programs. Undoubtedly, these student employees — especially new hires — received some degree of summer training experience before tackling their job responsibilities as facility attendants, lifeguards, fitness instructors, intramural officials, etc.
Every campus rec department has its own unique approach to training student employees. Campus rec professionals are adept at engaging students and implementing best practices for employee training. Everyone strives to create a comprehensive training model that works within the confines of their institutional environment. However, a variety of factors including time and scheduling constraints, professional staff size, and financial resources impact the level of training offered from one university to another.
One of the most critical elements of any training process is assessment. So, while the 2023-2024 academic year seems miles away, now is the best time to evaluate your student employee training process and consider ways to tweak or expand the process in the future.
A model that can prove to be extremely valuable and rewarding is an intensive summer training experience for student employees. Bringing together your entire campus rec team for an extended period prior to the start of the school year can yield invaluable results for your department.
Much like the in-depth training for residential assistants, an intensive campus rec training process not only allows for more comprehensive, in-depth job understanding and preparation, but it also offers a terrific opportunity for team and community building.
Taking the opportunity to close your rec center in the waning days of summer to gather your full professional and student staff together requires ample planning and nimble execution. The length of an intensive summer training certainly can vary, ranging from a few days to a full week. Regardless of the length, the goal is always the same: make sure the experience is meaningful and productive for the students.
So, what are the benefits and challenges involved with an in-depth summer training program?
Enhanced Preparedness for Rec Operations
The more time you can devote to training, the better prepared your student employees should be to operate a rec center and implement excellent programming. An intensive experience allows for well-crafted training that is detail oriented and focuses a spotlight on the most critical aspects of rec management, especially your emergency action plan and response processes.
Collaborating with campus partners who can serve as guest presenters on relevant topics can be easier to coordinate in the summer. Colleagues from across the spectrum — university police, EMS, student conduct, counseling, etc. — can all make valuable contributions that help demonstrate the synergy between campus rec and other campus stakeholders.
Having your students together for an extended period of time affords a department the opportunity to blend extensive learning opportunities with bonding experiences that fosters greater collaboration and teamwork that resonates all year long.
Expanded Team and Community Building
An intensive program can create a common experience for students that develops a special bond between the members of the campus rec community. A tighter knit group will emerge from training and have a greater appreciation for the shared vision and mission of the department.
An expanded training process allows for more opportunities for students and professional staff to engage in both small-scale ice breakers to large-scale team building exercises that promote unity and teamwork.
Of course, ample social interaction — including shared meals and entertainment — contributes to creating a more unified community that enhances the workplace and can lead to meaningful friendships that extend beyond the department.
Further Development of Holistic Student Leaders
An intensive and mandatory training experience helps students recognize the seriousness of the role they play in campus life, while preparing them for the rigors of their professional careers. An expanded training opens the door to focusing on transferable skills and knowledge development that will aid students in both their campus rec positions and future career opportunities. Lastly, true emphasis can be placed on developing our student employees as leaders within our campus communities.
1. Will your hiring process be completed in a timeframe that permits you to host a summer training experience?
2. Can “mandatory” be truly “mandatory”? A summer training experience will lose much of its value if you cannot mandate your student employees attend. While ultimately a few students will have to be excused for valid reasons, the vast majority need to be present for the duration of training for it to be impactful.
3. Is your department equipped with the necessary resources to implement a summer training experience? Having the adequate budgetary resources to devote to training is essential. This experience is also demanding of your professional staff. These individuals will devote a great amount of time and energy to planning and implementing summer training. The end product needs to justify the financial and man-power resources that will be required to pull one off successfully.
4. Logistics, logistics, logistics. Everything from scheduling the agenda to reserving spaces to coordinating student housing to ordering meals — and don’t forget those dietary restrictions — needs to be addressed in meticulous fashion. Attention to detail and excellent collaboration within the department and with campus partners is essential to executing a successful training.
While it is challenging for campus rec departments that annually host a summer training experience, and perhaps seem completely daunting for institutions that have never hosted one before, the ultimate results are well worth the effort. Your student employees will be supercharged for the start of the school year, better bonded as a cohesive unit and truly excited about the mission of campus rec.