How To Retain Your Summer Program Staff

These five strategies will help you hold onto seasonal staff once school starts back up in the fall.

summer program staff

It takes a lot to hire and onboard summer program staff. Between posting jobs, recruiting, interviewing, training, and processing paperwork, you’ve invested some serious time and energy in each employee you hire. It only makes sense then, to also invest in retaining them once summer is over.  


In this article, we’ll share five unique strategies providers can use to keep summer program staff working at your agency in the fall:  

1. Offer flexible schedules

Because the majority of summer program staff are recent graduates or college students, retaining them once school starts back up can be a challenge. It’s important for providers to recognize that school takes priority for student employees during the academic year and adjust their scheduling strategies accordingly.  


Consider offering flexible scheduling options that accommodate students’ class schedules. GoodLife Innovations, a disability service agency in Kansas, offers a three-day workweek that includes one weekend shift and two weekdays. This gives students four full days to attend classes, study, and do homework — ensuring they can continue working full-time while managing their academic responsibilities.  

2. Turn work experience into college credit

Another way to retain students is to help them earn college credit for working at your agency. How? Many universities have policies that allow students to count their work experience as an independent study or internship. This opportunity extends to students studying psychology, social work, education, or similar fields, who may qualify for college credits by working as a DSP.  


Contact local colleges and universities to find out if they accept work experience for transcript credit. You may even be able to partner with a university to become an official internship site. For example, Progressive Comprehensive Services — a disability service agency in New Jersey — is an official internship site for the Dept. of Social Work at Centenary College and Rutgers School of Health Related Professions. 


Depending on the school’s requirements, you may be asked to fill out paperwork, conduct evaluations, and document the student’s performance. While this might require a bit more prep work on your end, it can be a great incentive for students to stay with your agency once school starts back up.   

3. Think outside the box with unique perks or benefits

Benefits have always been an important tool for retaining employees. But as you might expect, students typically have different wants and needs from the rest of your employees. Traditional benefits like vision and dental insurance may not be as appealing for student workers.  


Instead, think outside the box with perks like discounted cell phone plans, tuition assistance, or free meals and snacks. Likewise, free gym memberships or tickets to local attractions and sporting events can increase employee satisfaction and help student workers make the most of their time away from work. If you’re not sure which benefits will appeal most to your employees, all you have to do is ask!  

4. Give bonuses for staff that stay in the fall

In addition to employee perks, consider offering unique incentives or bonuses to summer staff who choose to stay in the fall season. This can include cash bonuses, gift cards, or even extra paid time off.  


Bonuses provide tangible rewards for employees’ loyalty, making them feel valued and motivated to stick with your agency. For employers, it’s usually much more cost-effective in the long run to retain existing employees than to replace them, even when you take into account the cost of one-time bonus payments. It’s a win-win situation! 

5. Provide professional development and career advancement opportunities

It’s no secret that many summer program staff go on to hold higher-level roles within the agency. For instance, SETWorks Client Success Manager Jocelyn Leatherman worked as a counselor at a summer program for individuals with disabilities before becoming a community support coach, and later a community services coordinator and quality assurance manager with the agency.  


If you want to retain your summer program staff, make sure that paths for advancement are clear. Employees need to be aware of the career options that are available to them and what it takes to get to the next level.  


In addition, be sure to advertise opportunities for professional development. Providing training demonstrates your investment in the growth and success of your staff, making them more likely to stick around. KenCrest, a Pennsylvania provider, offers any employee with a DSP-associated title the opportunity to participate in its DSP Accreditation Program and earn national certification from the NADSP — as well as up to  $4,800 in bonuses for completion.  

Keep your summer program staff coming back

Retaining staff beyond the summer months benefits both your agency and the employees who can grow and advance in their careers, but it also requires a concerted effort. By offering flexible schedules that accommodate their academic workloads, turning work experience into college credit, providing unique perks and incentives, and offering professional development opportunities, agencies can foster loyalty and motivation among their summer program staff.  

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