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Let the Mentoring Begin!

A study by Western Illinois University reveals the number of professionals expected to retire in 10 years and the need for a mentoring program

by dr. terry g. schwartz, clp and Dr. katharine pawelko

Nearly 60 percent of the professionals who have helped to pave the way to make the park and recreation profession one of the finest career opportunities in the country will vacate their positions.

Demographic studies show there is an enormous wave of people who, by virtue of their age, are entering the twilight of their careers. Many of these people are in their late-40s and early-50s and are recognized as the “Baby Boomer” generation. Some will delay retirement and stay in the work force for a long period of time. Others will make career changes, and still others expect to retire. American Demographics (1999) reports that people in the retirement age group will increase by another 5.5 million people by the year 2005.

A study was recently completed in late-1999 by Western Illinois University in an effort to begin to understand the potential retirement frequencies among public park and recreation professionals. An inquiry was conducted to determine if any predictable patterns existed within this group. The study was distributed among employees at the level of executive director and superintendent at public park and recreation organizations in the state of Illinois. The objectives of this research included the following:

• To determine if the suggested demographic is considering retirement in the future;
• To determine to what degree that retirement might be occurring and if patterns could be projected;
• To determine the gender frequency of the retirees; and
• To determine the average salaries of the retirees.

Methodology of the Study
Questionnaires were mailed to the top two levels of administrative staff in public park and recreation organizations. Staff with titles of superintendent, assistant director, and executive director in public park and recreation agencies in the state of Illinois were represented in the sample. These employees work for park districts, municipal parks and recreation organizations, forest preserve districts, township park districts, and special recreation associations. The data were collected over a two-month period. The sample studied was derived from the IAPD/IPRA Membership Directory and Buyer’s Guide, an annual publication of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association (IPRA) and the Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD). A total of 599 questionnaires were sent to the sample and a total of 421 responded for a response rate of 70.1 percent.

The questionnaire was designed to determine several factors and was divided into several sections of interest. The first section was used to identify general characteristics of the respondent including region of the state, the type of agency of employment, and the position a person held in the agency.

The second section of the survey provided information specific to the current position that the study participants held. Questions focused on years of experience; number of years in current position; and, amount of pay currently earned. The study also inquired about the projected date of retirement.

Section three asked for levels of satisfaction in regarding career, age, gender, and level of education. This section helped to determine if the respondents have com-

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pleted a degree in a park and recreation curriculum. The questions in this section also helped to identify the number of male and female managers in lead positions.

General Characteristics of Respondents
When asked the region of the state, the largest response of 312 (74 percent) were from the Chicago suburbs, 45 (10.6 percent) were from northern Illinois and 43 (10.2 percent) were from central Illinois and 14 (3 percent) were from southern Illinois. The largest response (306) represented park districts and the second most represented group was from city park and recreation departments. The remaining responses were from special recreation organizations, forest preserve districts and non-profit organizations.

Current Position, Pay and Gender of Respondents
Superintendents represented 48.5 percent of the responses, executive directors represented 44 percent and the remaining 7.5 percent were assistant directors or some other title. Men represented 300 respondents and 115 women completed the questionnaire. Six people gave no response as to the nature of their gender. At the superintendent level, there were 198 (47 percent) responses. Women represented one-third (33.8 percent) of the superintendents who responded.

Overall, males earn a significant amount more than women as the average pay for all males who responded was $11,350 per year higher than the females who responded. The average pay for superintendents was $48,460 for men and $43,870 for women.

Number of Professionals Planning to Retire
The study revealed that we could anticipate a significant exodus of professionals who work in public park and recreation profession in the next 10 years. The results of the study indicate that from the five years 1999 to 2004, we can expect 122 positions (28.9 percent) to be vacated in the state of Illinois alone. Another 117 (27 percent) executives and superintendents will retire in the five years from 2005 to 2009. Nearly 60 percent of the professionals who have helped to pave the way to make the park and recreation profession one of the finest career opportunities in the country will vacate their positions.

With this projected change in the next 10 years, Illinois can expect a significant turnover in the number of people who have contributed tremendously to the growth and development of the park and recreation profession. Consider these implications as a result of the dramatic change caused by this turnover.

Professional Preparation

• Turnover will offer excellent opportunities for professional advancement in the park and recreation career at several levels of responsibility in organizations.
• The domino effect caused by people who leave current positions to occupy the vacancies created from retirement will open the “floodgates of opportunity” for entry level and middle management positions.
• Although outnumbered 2-1 (131 male respondents and 67 female respondents) women who occupy middle management positions have excellent potential to be favorably positioned as likely successors in executive level vacancies.
• Due to the large number of people who will leave the field, there may not be enough professionals who are prepared or willing to ascend to the next level of responsibility.
• Mentoring programs, as suggested by Shinew, Anderson, and Arnold (1999), will enhance the successful transition of current park and recreation employees to these new vacancies.
• The retirement phenomenon doesn’t necessarily suggest that all one has to have is a degree in park and recreation and be a certified leisure professional (CLP). While the majority of the respondents have degrees in parks and recreation (55 percent), the sample indicated degrees in various other areas of academic preparation such as business and finance, education, public administration, social sciences and forestry.
• Specialization in our career will always be a potential reality. Available positions have the potential to be filled with people with other career interests who may be trained in other fields of study.
• To aid in the preparation of future practitioners for these executive level positions, there might be a need for advanced education opportunities for individuals who seek a degree beyond the baccalaureate.

The domino effect caused by people who leave current positions to occupy the vacancies created from retirement will open the "floodgates of opportunity" for entry level and middle management positions.

The dramatic changes that are anticipated over the next several years will require a concerted effort to nurture and prepare future park and recreation professionals. People who currently work in Illinois park and recreation organizations will require mentoring. Educators who represent schools that offer the park and recreation curricula can begin to communicate to the student the potential of this opportunity.

An issue to ponder is the potential that public park and recreation organizations may not fill the positions with park and recreation trained replacements. Why? While there is not statistical evidence to validate the point,

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the ranks of the elected official may change as well. This is possible due to the same phenomena that influences the park and recreation professional: retirement and the desire to move on to another initiative. The other influence is the difficult nature of public service. Blended belief systems in communities among elected officials, community members and organization practitioners encourage strife, stress and the potential of one-term service.

We have moved from the recreation departments administering activity to children, to human service providers offering opportunities from birth to death and managing multimillion dollar operations.

Why is this dangerous and how does it influence the career? The career has come a long way since the “Boomers” moved through during the late ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. This was not accomplished in a vacuum though. Board members, legislators and administrators of the time were critical, vital partners in the movement. The advocacy we currently enjoy today is due to the efforts of these visionaries.

Organizational training of this history to these newly elected officials is critical. This mentoring and training needs to take place at all levels of government: local, state and national. This responsibility is more difficult however. The body politic doesn’t always see things the same way as the practitioner. The tax cap is my evidence at the state level. There are many agency administrators who can attest to the negative frustrations that come with local politics.

We have gotten more complicated since the 1970s. As Balmer (1978) prognosticated, we have moved from the recreation departments administering activity to children, to human service providers offering opportunities from birth to death and managing multimillion dollar operations. We have come a long way in how we deliver services to our vast constituency.

The job is more difficult than ever before. Interestingly enough though, people who work in executive level positions are not discouraged. However daunting the challenge may be, 84 percent gain a great deal of satisfaction from the experience (satisfying 34 percent of very satisfying 60 percent) and 87.7 percent (47.7 percent very satisfied and 40 percent satisfied) felt the experience allowed them to work to their fullest potential. 

Dr. terry schwartz, CLP
is assistant professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration at Western Illinois University. He has more than 25 years of experience working in parks and recreation in Illinois and is a past president of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association.

Dr. katharine pawelko
is associate professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration at Western Illinois University.

Ken Balmer. “The Elora Prescription: A Future for Recreation” 1978. Ontario, Canda: Ministry of Culture and Recreation. p. 22
Kimberley J. Shinew, Ph.D., CLP, Denise Anderson and Margaret Arnold. “Is There a Glass Ceiling in Parks & Recreation?” Illinois Parks & Recreation, Vol. 29, No. 3, p. 23.

IPRA Responds to Survey Findings with a New Mentoring Program

A goal was established by the IPRA board to address shifts in the number of people who would soon leave the association based on the findings of this study. The board formed an ad hoc “Mentoring” committee comprised of five members: IPRA board member Jill Bartholomew, Homewood-Flossmoor Park District; Joanna Tomy, Woodridge Park District; Roger Key, Arlington Heights Park District; Jeff Wait, Winnetka Park District; and Dr. Terry Schwartz, Western Illinois University.

The committee created an IPRA Mentoring Program and presented it to the board in April 2000. The mentoring program is designed to promote three initiatives:
• To promote the understanding, growth, and development of the park and recreation profession;
• To nurture and advise those people who have the desire to gain positions of greater responsibility through promotion into positions of higher responsibility and better pay; and
• To promote IPRA, its networking, volunteer and professional opportunities.

The Mentoring Program is a volunteer activity that is available to all IPRA members. Since personal desire for advancement in the career may take place at any administrative level in an organization, any member is eligible and encouraged to participate as a mentor or as a person who wishes to be mentored (mentoree). It is possible for a person to be mentored and serve as a mentor at the same time.

To register for the mentoring program, one needs to call the IPRA office and request to serve as a mentor or register your desire to be mentored. The office will send you a form that will provide the committee with the necessary data that will aid in matching the mentors with people who wish to be mentored. Once a match can be found, the mentor and the person to be mentored will be provided a mentoring guide. The guide will help participants in the mentoring program to work efficiently in the mentoring program n

— by Dr. Terry Schwartz, CLP and Dr. Katharine Pawelko

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