If you love the outdoors and have a natural flair for leadership a career in outdoor activity/education management may be ideal for you
In this role you'll run a centre that offers facilities and classes in outdoor sports and activities. These may include, climbing, cycling, horse riding, mountaineering, orienteering and water sports. It's likely that you'll spend some time working with specific client groups, such as school pupils, people with special needs or young offenders.
You'll probably have a background in instructing and may continue to teach as part of your job. In this role, you will have the overall responsibility for the centre and will need to manage staff and ensure adherence to safety regulations at all times.
As an outdoor activities/education manager, you'll need to:
- manage, recruit, train and monitor staff and support staff development
- ensure staff adhere to safety regulations currently laid down by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA)
- ensure that equipment and facilities are safe and that guests are instructed in safety procedures (and follow them)
- assess risk and act upon any issues arising from this assessment
- provide instruction in a specialist area, such as mountaineering or sailing
- undertake courses to keep your own qualifications and skills current
- plan appropriate programmes of outdoor activities for groups, usually in liaison with teachers or managers of the group
- deliver evening lectures on outdoor activities and related topics, e.g. nature, geography, history of the area
- prepare educational resources
- deal with queries, problems and complaints from guests
- record and report accidents, dealing with accidents and emotional upsets
- purchase, check, maintain and prepare equipment
- deal with the financial management of the centre, such as paying salaries, costing and invoicing for courses
- keep accounts up to date
- oversee catering, housekeeping and accommodation services
- oversee the upkeep of the facilities, buildings and estate
- advertise the centre through promotional literature, the internet and networking opportunities
- evaluate the work of the centre and plan new activities to meet changing demands
- experiment with new provision, which might include after school and holiday clubs for children, new activities, e.g. quad biking, and courses not normally associated with outdoor pursuits, e.g. dog training or martial arts
- bid for funding from government bodies, especially for privately run centres
- monitor weather and environmental conditions
- generate income by hiring out facilities for other types of activity, e.g. music groups, study groups, retreats, conferences and activities such as yoga or tai chi
- liaise with national parks, organisations such as the National Trust, national governing bodies, etc.
- Many people start work as a seasonal instructor at an outdoor centre or on an activity holiday. Starting salaries for instructors are around £10,000 per annum, rising to £18,000 with experience. Salaries for apprentice instructors, and those working in roles that include board and accommodation, are at the lower end of the pay scale.
- Senior instructors can earn around £25,000, depending on the organisation and their experience and specialist skills.
- Experienced centre managers can earn in excess of £35,000 and up to £40,000.
Overtime bonuses and shift allowances may apply. Accommodation and meals are sometimes provided for free.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Hours can be very long and irregular and include evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Due to the residential nature of the work, you often need to be available 24 hours a day, so getting away from your work is not always possible.
What to expect
- You'll work in a combination of offices, classrooms and the outdoors.
- As an instructor in the early stages of your career, work is often seasonal (usually Easter to October) and many jobs are on temporary contracts. Some instructors work abroad in the winter, for example in the skiing industry.
- Due to the seasonal nature and long hours of work, your employer may support lengthy holidays out of season, if you're on a permanent contract.
- The industry has a relatively high number of freelance instructors working for a range of different centres. Freelancers hold relevant instructor's qualifications from the appropriate national governing body (NGB).
- Having overall responsibility for the safety, discipline and well-being of both staff and guests throughout their stay can be stressful. Some centres, particularly in more remote areas, offer full residential facilities where guests will stay while on a course.
A degree or HND is not essential, although they will boost your chances of securing a management role.
Although this career is open to graduates from a variety of disciplines, a degree, foundation degree or HND in the following subjects would offer a particularly useful background:
- business management
- outdoor education, leadership or recreation
- physical education or sports-related courses.
Postgraduate qualifications are available in outdoor education and recreation management, although a Masters degree is not necessary for entry to the profession. Search for postgraduate courses in outdoor education. Teaching qualifications can be an advantage as opportunities are often in local authority centres.
For many people, the first step into this career is working as a seasonal instructor at an outdoor centre or on an activity holiday, followed by a move up the ladder to a full-time instructor, a senior instructor and, finally, managing an entire centre.
Competition for management posts can be fierce. You will need to have relevant experience and the necessary qualities to handle the responsibility. For some, this will be a second career after school teaching, the armed forces, youth work or coaching.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- outstanding leadership and management skills, with a willingness to lead by example
- teamworking skills and the ability to motivate and inspire others
- group facilitation skills, allowing even those with a limited range of technical outdoor skills to work with groups
- excellent written and oral communication skills and the ability to establish a rapport with a range of people
- customer service skills
- decision-making skills and the ability to stay calm in difficult, even dangerous situations
- planning and organisational skills
- financial skills, such as being able to manage a budget
- commercial awareness and a flair for marketing
- an imaginative and innovative approach to work
- flexibility in order to meet business and client needs
- energy, stamina, good health and physical strength
- an appropriate first aid qualification of at least two days' duration and if you plan to be involved in water sports, you will also need a lifesaving qualification
- a licence to drive a minibus and tow a trailer is useful, so that you can transport clients and equipment to the activity site.
You'll need to gain skills and experience in at least one outdoor activity and the more activity skills you can offer, the better. Finding a work placement or doing voluntary work, in an outdoor activities centre, is a valuable way of gaining experience.
You'll also need experience of working as an instructor, along with a formal instructor's qualification from the appropriate national governing body (NGB) in at least one main activity. If these qualifications are not offered as part of your degree course or through the clubs you are involved in, contact the national NGB for your sport(s) for details of courses and qualifications. You can find details of NGBs on:
Finding a work placement or doing voluntary work, in an outdoor activities centre, for example, is a valuable way of gaining experience.
It's also important to participate in extracurricular activities. A Community Sports Leadership Award will be an advantage, as will involvement in activities such as:
- the Duke of Edinburgh's Award
- Explorer Scouts (see Scout Association)
- the University Officer Training Corps (UOTC)
- university societies, sports teams and expeditions.
Job titles may vary and you could be known as a warden, course director, chief instructor, head of centre or operations manager.
You may be employed by:
- local authorities
- independent activity centres
- charitable organisations, such as the Youth Hostel Association (England & Wales) and the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA)
- not-for-profit organisations that cater for people with special needs or support social services provision through residential outdoor experiences.
The market for outdoor education courses includes:
- corporate clients who may use outdoor activities to develop leadership and teamwork skills in their staff
- social and probation services who may want to provide positive, character-building experiences for disadvantaged and disaffected young people
- groups of friends or work colleagues who use the activities mainly for fun, perhaps for stag or hen parties
- schools in areas where there is no local authority provision of outdoor education.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Institute for Outdoor Learning
- Leisure Opportunities
- Local Government Jobs
- Outdoor Staff
Once you're in the role, training is ongoing, as it is essential to keep vocational skills and qualifications up to date. Your first aid certificate, for example, must be kept up to date throughout your career.
Many employers will sponsor employees (even part-time seasonal ones) to complete additional qualifications while working as an instructor. Contact the relevant national governing body or the Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL) for details of the qualifications you can take.
Membership of the IOL can be useful for networking, training and career development opportunities, through its regular conferences and workshops and professional accreditation. You can also join the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (IMSPA).
Further training options include taking qualifications in related fields, such as:
- business management
- counselling and mentoring
- facilities management
- finance or marketing
- training and development.
You can also study for a postgraduate qualification in outdoor education.
Although promotion to supervisory and management posts can be rapid if you have the right qualifications, experience and commitment, this is not a structured career and there is no defined career ladder. In general, however, the larger multiple centre providers offer more scope for quick progression to managerial roles, with some individuals spending only one or two seasons actually delivering activities. Large organisations in the private sector may be able to offer the opportunity for you to work abroad, especially in the USA and Australia.
If you want to stay actively involved in outdoor activities, managing an outdoor activities/education centre is normally as high as you can go. In the private sector, there are some opportunities to move into overseeing several centres or working at a head office.
In the public sector, promotion usually means moving into more senior administrative work in leisure services or education. Some administrative posts are also available with national governing bodies (NGBs) and sports councils.
Progression could mean setting up your own business, perhaps concentrating on newer markets for leisure and corporate clients. You could also take on freelance work. Teaching in further or higher education is also a possibility, with the appropriate qualifications. Other opportunities exist in specialist outdoor equipment manufacture and retail, as well as in visitor and countryside centres.