Some overnight summer camps west of Calgary say they've struggled to find the staff they need as they head into their first summer season since the pandemic forced them to close.
Camps that remained open with COVID-19 restrictions in place during the pandemic were able to retain workers and get a head start this year, but others found themselves hiring from scratch.
Easter Seals' Camp Horizon southwest of Bragg Creek provides children and teens with disabilities and medical conditions an outdoor camp experience that helps them build self-esteem and independence.
It's been a struggle for them to hire workers and reopen this summer after a two-year hiatus.
"We were hit really hard in the initial first months when COVID first hit, so this is really exciting for us to be at this point and getting the camp back open again," said Katherine Such, CEO for Easter Seals Alberta.
"Hiring has been one of our biggest struggles to date. We have been trying so hard to get staff since February," said Such.
She says they're doing everything possible to be up and running this summer, but they will be opening at only 75 per cent capacity due to both COVID and hiring issues.
"Even at that 75 per cent, we are still struggling for staff," she said.
Because of the nature of the camp, they look for staff qualified to work with special needs kids. But they don't exclude anyone, Such says, and conduct their own in-house training related to working with their special needs clients.
Camp Cadicasu southwest of Cochrane, along Highway 68 on the edge of Kananaskis Country, is one of the camps that stayed open through the pandemic, albeit with restrictions.
That summer camp has existed for 92 years at multiple sites and hasn't faced as many issues this year. But it has still struggled when it comes to finding workers who can travel from surrounding areas.
"We get started in our hiring season in December or January," said Alyssa Cameron, camp director. "We had quite a few returning staff members from last year and an 80 per cent return rate of senior staff."
Cameron says around 50 per cent of other staff members returned, with the rest made up of new hires from other countries — through an agency that connects camps with international workers — along with local hires.
"For us, the main challenge has been finding staff members from Calgary, Cochrane, southern Alberta and local areas," said Cameron. "That was the challenge, to have that balance."
Cameron says not having to start from scratch put them at a big advantage when it came to finding staff.
She says demand is still high, and they also have a long wait list, which she says is a good problem to have.
Another popular summer camp, the YMCA's Camp Chief Hector, also opens this summer for the first time since March 2020.
Calgary summer camps fully staffed
Closer to the city, summer day camps haven't had the same issues finding workers.
Both the YMCA and University of Calgary say they're ready for the summer season and are fully staffed.
"It's been a different landscape but we planned for that," said Brett Warren, day camp and climbing centre manger at the Calgary YMCA.
"We started our recruitment and training process earlier this year to make those accommodations," said Warren.
"It's a perfect high school and university level job because it starts beginning of July and ends in August," he said.
"We're excited to welcome back families."
The University of Calgary says it hasn't had any issues recruiting staff for the summer camps it offers through its Active Living program.