There may never be a better time to be a work camper.
The ever-increasing cost of the RVing lifestyle, along with new factors such as the “Great Resignation,” have many full-time RVers giving work camping another look.
Campground owners—just like every other employer in America—struggle to find and retain good workers.
“Last year we saw our biggest numbers yet,” said Jody Duquette, owner of Workamper® News, a website that pairs workers with available jobs. “All businesses are struggling to find people for jobs.”
Working your way across the country
Work campers have long been a key nomadic work force for campground owners. Deals struck between owners and work campers vary widely, with some working a set number of weekly hours in exchange for a free or reduced-price campsite. Other owners, now more than ever, are also including a small wage and other benefits to lure and keep good workers. Most work campers are couples, although single travelers are becoming more common. Campground jobs can vary widely from front desk to landscaping and housekeeping to specialized skills such as plumbing and electrical work.
Compensation for their work is also a mixed bag.
Services such as Workamper News essentially act as “dating services” for park owners and potential work campers. Owners post available jobs on the website, and work campers post resumes listing their skills and desired locations.
“Some work campers don’t want to get monetary income because it brings them over their Social Security limits or impacts their taxes,” said Duquette. She said many owners are adding hours to work campers’ work weeks. “Those who do pay a wage seem to be paying more.”
“We are seeing a big increase in the number of work campers out there, as well as a huge increase in the number of businesses looking for work campers,” Duquette said. That includes businesses that have nothing to do with campgrounds.
“The majority who utilize work campers are still campgrounds,” she says, “but there are a lot of different businesses out there now from restaurants to places you’d never associate with the work camping lifestyle.” Duquette said her company even works with the Jackson Hewitt Tax Service to provide work campers with a skill as tax preparers.
New work camper trends emerging
The explosion of remote workers able to live in their RVs and travel while working is beginning to run head-on into the dearth of available campsites. Duquette sees remote workers as an opportunity to expand work camping.
“If you are going to travel the country and stay in one campground for a month while you work, good luck finding a place,” she said. “But if remote workers still have a few hours to spare each month, they might consider becoming a work camper as a means to find an available campsite in their desired location. I hope that they are willing to consider that.”
The consolidation of campground ownership is also changing the face of work camping. “We work with many of the larger campground employers like Equity Lifestyles, Thousand Trails and Vista Recreation,” Duquette said. “It gives work campers exposure to parks in multiple states.”
Duquette said her company also works with social media groups and younger families who home-school their children. “We have many folks who work camp with their kids,” she said. “The kids often get involved, too, and that’s awesome.”
She said she has noticed a trend where more workers are requesting a wage along with a free or discounted campsite. “Workers requesting a wage is up about 10 percent in our data,” Duquette said. “More people are definitely looking for some sort of wage.”
She said that trend is likely to continue. “There seems to be less people now with retirement incomes, pensions, and 401k accounts. Younger campers don’t have that other income and haven’t accessed their 401k’s yet, so they may not be as well prepared and really need actual pay for their hours.”
Working with a system
Kampgrounds of America Inc. has had its own work camper force for decades. Of the more than 520-plus KOA locations across North America, more than 400 locations posted jobs through the KOA Work Kamper program thus far in 2022 alone. The KOA program has seen a lot of growth since it was created in 2005, and it looks as if WorkatKOA.com is headed toward a bright future as more people flood into the camping lifestyle.
“We have grown to have more than 2,500 KOA Work Kamper teams now,” said Ericka Garcia-Travis, KOA’s workforce development manager. Although the KOA Work Kamper member base mainly consists of retirees, KOA is beginning to see more families work camp while home-schooling, and more young adults who are choosing to work camp for the lifestyle. “I think many people are realizing they don’t want to be tied down to a desk job,” Garcia-Travis said. “They want to see the country and work while enjoying the great outdoors.”
Kampgrounds of America also has plans to expand its work camper force beyond the limits of full-time RVers.
“We are working to create partnerships with colleges and universities to offer working internships to students,” Garcia-Travis said. “We think it will make our program more diverse and invite young people to find out more about campground management and ownership while they are still in school. It will be a great way for someone to take a look at a career in camping.”
WorkatKOA.com also operates like a dating service between the work camper and the campground. The site helps make the connection between the owner and the work camper, and then they get to see if they are a “match.”
“Members have unlimited access to post resumes and can view jobs at as many campgrounds as they like,” said Garcia-Travis. She said non-members can visit the page, look at frequently asked questions and benefits, and even view some of the jobs available. But they won’t be able to click through and apply, receive the newsletter with job postings, or have access to KOA’s education.
Beyond creating a two-way communication between hiring campgrounds and work campers, the KOA Work Kamper program offers specialized benefits such as online certifications, referral bonuses and travel vouchers.
Travel vouchers are a unique benefit to the KOA Work Kamper program. Once a Work Kamper is hired, they will receive up to $150 in travel vouchers to help cover expenses as they move from one KOA job to another. Campers can receive a $50 voucher for the first 500 miles of travel, a second voucher for travel from 500 to 1,000 miles, and a third voucher if their next job is more than 1,000 miles away. The vouchers are redeemed at KOA campgrounds along their route.
More work camping options at more locations
Work campers, in general, now find themselves in a seller’s market as campground owners approach the start of the summer season. They are becoming integral players in the success of many parks.
“I think one of the biggest benefits of work camping are the long-term relationships these people make,” said Duquette. “Work campers are successfully creating relationships that lead to great spaces to come back to year after year, or even stay year around. That’s good for the owner, too, because they must do less recruiting.”
Duquette said campground owners would do well to start looking at their employment programs, adjusting compensation, recruiting tactics, and schedules.
“That all leads to them being able to attract and keep better candidates,” she said.
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