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Building a Staff Ladder

This is the fourth of a biweekly series about “The Business of Before and After School.” Look for other posts on this topic by selecting Business from the category list below right.

Managing for the long-term success of before and afterschool programs requires many elements, some of which are accomplished on a daily basis and others only after years of purposeful ground work have been completed. Developing a deep pool of candidates or a strong flow from an incoming “Staff Ladder” to meet your programs ongoing staffing needs, falls into the latter category, and can be a great contribution from an administrator to an organization’s long-term health.

Afterschool administrators are continuously focused on: safety standards, quality standards, strong financial management, staff development experiences, and positive relationships with many stakeholders, to name just a few.  They are also continually thinking about the future needs of their organization and for most Before and After School Programs, staffing needs are always high on the list.

As an example, a common staffing mix of many afterschool organizations today include most or all of these basic ingredients:  Director, Coordinator, some full time staff, part time staff, some student interns, and a little support staff, however the amounts or proportions of those categories of staff vary greatly within the afterschool field.   A second point can be made that part time staff are the majority ingredient of the after school workforce in most organizations, and part time staffing by nature (in all fields, not just afterschool) has a higher rate of turn over than full time positions.  This reality requires almost constant staff recruitment by afterschool administrators.  However, having said that, if administrators build a “Staff Ladder” they can significantly reduce the amount of energy, time and money spent finding new staff members each year.

A “Staff Ladder” is a predictable pool, or the better analogy would be “stream” of trusted and trained individuals interested in joining your organization as a staff member.   The only two factors required in the creation of a “Staff Ladder” are planning and time; otherwise each organization’s plan to build a ladder may look very different but accomplish the same goal.  The following few paragraphs outline a path to success geared towards a mid-sized, multi-site, full service (school year and summer camp) organization.  Smaller or larger organizations could use the basic elements discussed and modify them to meet their specific needs.

Step One – Look inside first!  Always begin by knowing your own staff member’s future plans and aspirations.  A good student intern today may be a great part time group leader next year and a trusted full time Senior Group Leader in 5 years.

Step Two – Counselor in Training (CIT) Programs produce the skills you are looking for!  Create a CIT Program and make entry into the program competitive.     Formalize the training program, evaluate the participants, have the CIT’s “work” the last week of the program for their first paycheck and then hold a ceremony (in front of the whole camp or afterschool program).  At the function give the students their certificate of completion (along with a check) to not only recognize the student’s successful completion of the program, but also to instill a sense of pride in them, in front of the many little faces they just worked so hard to keep safe and happy.

Step Three – Junior Counselor Programs start are step-up on the ladder.  The prerequisite for being a Junior Counselor is successful completion of your CIT program, and more importantly, having excellent evaluations during the program.  If your summer CIT program has 10 participants the first year, then the second year it may contain 10 new CIT’s and 4 Junior Counselors, all of who are returning CIT’s from last year.  The Junior Counselors, upon successful completion of a designated period of time (for example a second summer camp) and positive evaluations would then be offered a part time Student Intern position in your subsequent school year afterschool program.

Step Four – Student Interns refine skills and are prepared for regular part time positions.  Paid student internships are an integral part of afterschool programs and allow Site Supervisors the time to provide many hours of on-the-job training.  This training and mentorship will in many cases lead to interns becoming regular part time employees, especially if the student intern goes to college in the vicinity of the afterschool program.  After that the sky is the limit, one of your CIT’s today may be your organization’s Director some day, who knows!

In any event, if you spend the time discovering and training the talent within your own staff and community you serve, your investment can pay off in the creation of a “Staff Ladder” supplying motivated individuals wanting to work for your organization for years to come.  Now that’s an outcome we would all look forward to!

Vince small

Vince LaFontan has worked in the after school field, and as a consultant to youth-serving organizations, for 20 years.  Currently he is the Director of Farmington Extended Care & Learning in Farmington, CT, a Board Member of the Connecticut After School Network, and Vice Chair of the National AfterSchool Association’s Board of Directors in Washington, DC.

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