Outdoor activities/education managers run centres that offer facilities and classes in outdoor sports and activities. These include:

  • climbing;
  • cycling;
  • horse riding;
  • mountaineering;
  • orienteering;
  • water sports.

Most centre managers will have a background in instructing and may continue to teach as part of their job. As a manager, they have the overall responsibility for the centre, they manage staff and ensure adherence to safety regulations at all times.

The focus of the role may be educational, particularly when working with certain client groups, such as school pupils, people with special needs or young offenders. Outdoor pursuits activities are also offered to corporate groups in the field of management and personal development and, increasingly, for pleasure and adventure holidays, for both children and adults.

Responsibilities

The nature of the work varies depending on the activities offered, the client groups and the employer, but typical activities may include:

  • managing, recruiting, training and monitoring staff and supporting staff development;
  • ensuring staff adhere to safety regulations currently laid down by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA);
  • ensuring that equipment and facilities are safe and that guests are instructed in safety procedures (and follow them);
  • assessing risk and acting upon any issues arising from this assessment;
  • providing instruction in a specialist area, such as mountaineering or sailing;
  • undertaking courses to keep your own qualifications and skills current;
  • planning appropriate programmes of outdoor activities for groups, usually in liaison with teachers or managers of the group;
  • delivering evening lectures on outdoor activities and related topics, e.g. nature, geography, history of the area;
  • preparing educational resources;
  • dealing with queries, problems and complaints from guests;
  • recording and reporting accidents, dealing with accidents and emotional upsets;
  • purchasing, checking, maintaining and preparing equipment;
  • dealing with the financial management of the centre, such as paying salaries, costing and invoicing for courses and keeping
  • accounts up to date;
  • overseeing catering, housekeeping and accommodation services;
  • overseeing the upkeep of the facilities, buildings and estate;
  • advertising the centre through promotional literature, the internet and networking opportunities;
  • evaluating the work of the centre and planning new activities to meet changing demands;
  • experimenting 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;
  • bidding for funding from government bodies, especially for privately run centres;
  • monitoring weather and environmental conditions;
  • generating 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;
  • liaising with national parks, organisations such as the National Trust, national governing bodies, etc.

Salary

  • 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.

Working hours

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

  • Work is based in 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 (during the season) of the work, employers often support lengthy holidays out of season for those on permanent contracts.
  • The industry has a relatively high number of freelance instructors working for a range of different centres. Freelancers will hold relevant instructor's qualifications from the appropriate national governing body (NGB).
  • Centres are often in rural areas, which may be remote. However, opportunities also exist in urban areas in education centres.
  • The work is physically demanding, so fitness and stamina are essential. You often have to put up with discomfort, e.g. camping out, bad weather. However, many outdoor pursuits managers regard their contact with the outdoors and with clients (however minimal) as worthy compensation for their more time-consuming office-based work.
  • 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.

Qualifications

A degree or HND is not absolutely essential, although it will greatly 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 subject areas would offer a particularly useful background:

  • business management;
  • outdoor education, leadership or recreation;
  • physical education or sports-related courses.

A postgraduate degree is not necessary for entry to the profession. Postgraduate qualifications are available in outdoor education and recreation management. 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.

Skills

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 outdoors 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 is essential. If you plan to be involved in water sports, you will also need a lifesaving qualification.

It is useful to learn how to drive a minibus and tow a trailer so that you can transport clients and equipment to the activity site.

In addition, it is important to have an interest in other aspects of the outdoors, such as the geography, geology and natural, social and industrial history of the region in which you want to work. You should also have a commitment to the conservation and protection of the natural environment.

Work experience

Skills and experience in at least one outdoor activity are sought by employers; the more activity skills you can offer, the better. You will 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 is also important to participate in extracurricular activities. A Community Sports Leadership Award will be an advantage, as will involvement in activities such as:

Employers

You could be employed by:

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.

The private sector, which includes small, independent centres and large organisations, may run expeditions and outdoor activities abroad as well as in the UK.

Management opportunities also exist in national sports centres and national governing bodies and in leisure services.

It is sometimes possible for experienced managers to set up their own centre or to undertake freelance work.

Look for job vacancies at:

Job titles may vary; warden, course director, chief instructor, head of centre and operations manager can all be used to describe this type of work.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Once you are 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.

Changes in the popularity of activities may mean gaining qualifications in other specialist areas. For example, if marine leisure is identified as a growth area, additional qualifications in this area could increase your employability.

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 and career development opportunities. Reduced rates of membership are available to students, providing access to a range of services. The IOL holds regular conferences and is involved in professional development and workshop days on a variety of outdoor skills throughout the UK. In addition, members can apply for professional accreditation through the IOL. There are three levels of accreditation, depending on your level of experience.

Membership of the Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (IMSPA) is also available to those working in outdoor activities.

Postgraduate qualifications are available in outdoor education and recreation management. Outdoor activities/education managers may take qualifications in related fields, such as:

  • counselling and mentoring;
  • business management;
  • facilities management;
  • training and development;
  • finance or marketing.

These qualifications can be particularly useful as they may facilitate career progression to higher positions, for example within a local authority's leisure services department. Universities are increasingly providing postgraduate qualifications on a modular basis to enable those already working in the sector to access them more readily.

Career prospects

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.

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 within outdoor activities could mean setting up your own business, perhaps concentrating on newer markets for leisure and corporate clients. It is not unusual for such businesses to avoid the liability of owning a centre and to hire in venues to deliver their services from. Freelance work is also possible, focusing on advising or training providers. The industry has a relatively high number of freelance instructors working for a range of different centres.

There are some opportunities to teach outdoor pursuits in urban areas, where indoor facilities are available for climbing, canoeing and skiing and local canals or urban lakes can be used for outdoor activities. Involvement in this type of provision can be a way into leisure management in its broadest sense.

A move into further or higher education lecturing or school teaching is possible for those with appropriate qualifications. Outside the broad field of education, other opportunities exist in specialist outdoor equipment manufacture and retail, as well as in visitor and countryside centres.

Large organisations in the private sector provide opportunities to work abroad (especially in the USA and Australia). Outdoor education is sometimes called experiential education in the USA.

Because of the nature of the role, outdoor activities/education managers may spend only part of their career in this industry, before moving on to something with more regular hours, more stability and a more defined career structure.