When Wayne and Lorene Rose opened a 96-site KOA campground 13 years ago in Petoskey, Mich., they managed the park on their own with help from their two sons, Kirk and Craig. But as their business grew, the Roses eventually reached out to local high school and college students to lend them a hand. And when a couple of their guests inquired about working at the campground, they hired them as well.
Those guests are what we commonly refer to today as work campers or, in some cases, “workampers,” a growing category of RV enthusiasts who regularly seek out part-time or full-time jobs in campgrounds across the country either to help cover the costs of full-or-extended time RVing or simply to keep themselves engaged in productive activities as they travel across the country.
It didn’t take long for the Rose family to see the advantages of workampers over local hires. While Petoskey has a plenty of high school and college students, their schedules typically limit them to work during summer vacation, whereas workampers are available whenever the Rose family needs them, usually from May to October. Of course, Petoskey has plenty of eligible adult residents who could pick up the slack, but many of them want more year-round hours than highly flexible working campers – if they work at all.
“Most adults in our area, other than teachers, want full-time year-round work,” Craig Rose explained. “But we’re in a resort area. And, depending on the economy, employees can be hard to come by in our area. There was a time a few years back when McDonald’s was paying $12 an hour because they couldn’t find enough help. That’s pretty hard to compete with.”
Workampers have a natural edge for jobs in RV parks and campgrounds because they tend to have an affinity for campground work in that they are RVers themselves. “In terms of maturity and knowledge of the camping industry, they’re just an ideal fit,” Rose said. “They’re at the campground all the time, which makes scheduling very easy. And they’re always there if you need extra help. Even when they’re off duty, they’re like ambassadors of the park. The campers just have a great relationship with them.”
It’s a unique concept – campers serving campers – and one that is apparently on the rise as a growing number of campground operators discover the merits of hiring RVers on either a part-time or full-time basis.
Greg Robus, editor of Workamper News, the Heber Springs, Ark.-based bimonthly magazine published by Workamper Inc. that serves as the best known classified advertising source for RVers seeking campground jobs, estimates that there are as many as 500,000 workampers across the country gainfully employed part time in everything from campgrounds to amusement parks.
And although there is no way to readily determine how many workampers are currently employed in public and private parks, campground operators and industry officials say the number is on the rise, fueled not only by the successful use of workampers in the past, but by the growing numbers of Baby Boomers who currently are opting to spend most or all of their time in RVs.
“I think the use of workampers is on the rise,” observes Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) in Falls Church, Va., adding that some parks have even developed cooperative arrangements in which they trade workampers back and forth between seasons.