The Job and What's Involved
Outdoor activities instructors help people to have fun, develop new skills and learn more about themselves by leading groups in a range of outdoor activities.
They are usually based at activity, education and adventure holiday centres. The people they work with come from all ages and all walks of life. They include:
- School and youth groups
- Children with special educational and emotional needs
- People with disabilities
- Business people on team-building exercises
- Adult recreation groups.
Activities vary according to the needs of each group, but can include climbing, camping, canoeing, archery, windsurfing, sailing, mountain biking and problem solving.
Courses can vary in length from a single day to a four-week expedition.
Centres sometimes specialise in particular activities, but instructors are often qualified in a range of activities.
The job involves:
- Planning and preparing activities.
- Giving practical demonstrations, instructions and advice to participants.
- Looking after and checking equipment.
- Assessing hazards and managing risks.
- Ensuring the safety and well-being of participants.
- Dealing with accidents, and helping people who may be too upset or scared to attempt an activity.
- Leading discussions to help participants enjoy and learn from the activities.
- Arranging social activities.
Some instructors may also be involved in liaising with clients and designing courses.
All instructors must be environmentally responsible and ensure that their groups respect their surroundings.
The job involves long and irregular hours that can vary each week. Instructors often work at evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Long treks and expeditions can involve camping out, and centres are often situated in remote locations.
Some jobs are full time, although most are seasonal. Part-time work is common.
This is an active career; instructors have to climb at heights, and organise activities in and on water. They work outdoors in all weathers, and conditions can be muddy, dusty and wet.
Travel is sometimes involved, and a driving licence - especially for a passenger-carrying vehicle (PCV), such as a minibus - is an advantage.
Salaries may start at between £8,000 and £10,000 a year. Accommodation, personal equipment and food are often provided. Local authority centres, which have set pay bands and structures, tend to pay the highest wages.
Getting Started with this Career Choice
There are 900 licensed providers of outdoor activities in the UK, and about 60,000 people are involved in the industry. This includes about 25,000 instructors and trainers, of whom about 15,000 are volunteers. This is a growing industry, although there is still strong competition for jobs.
There are opportunities in activity centres run by private firms, local authorities and charities, mainly in rural and coastal areas.
There are a handful of large companies with centres across the UK, but the majority of instructors are employed by small centres with ten staff or less. There are also opportunities to work at leisure centres with climbing walls, and with expedition companies which organise overseas trips.
Many instructors are freelance, either working for centres on contract, or directly with clients such as youth groups and companies who want to train their staff.
Education and Training
There are no set academic qualifications but most applicants have some experience of outdoor activities, perhaps gained through:
- Venture Scouts or Army Cadets
- The Duke of Edinburgh's Award
- Sports Leaders UK Awards
- Working as a volunteer at an outdoor activities centre
People often work as instructors during the summer while they are on a break from college or university. Employers look for people who have had responsibility for others, so experience as a youth leader, or in summer jobs such as working for Camp America, is also valued.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old, and over 21 if they are required to drive a minibus.
They usually need two or more proficiency or coaching awards in relevant outdoor sports. These are awarded by national governing bodies (NGBs) for each sport. Common awards for outdoor activities instructor's to obtain include:
- British Canoe Union Level 2 Coach.
- Mountain Leaders Training UK (MLTUK) Single Pitch Award (SPA).
- Walking Group Leader Award.
Contact the relevant NGB for more details.
Some NGB courses involve completing log books detailing experiences. These can be important in helping applicants to gain their first job.
All instructors need a first aid certificate, and those teaching watersports also need a lifesaving qualification.
Some centres may offer training placements for instructors, where they also carry out administration and other routine duties.
It is possible to follow a range of full-time courses at college or university, from a BTEC national certificate to a degree or postgraduate qualification. However, these are not a substitute for NGB awards and candidates are advised to check exact course details.
A Few More Exams You Might Need
Training is often provided on the job, sometimes with study at college, and often leads to qualifications such as NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Sport, Recreation and Allied Occupations: Activity Leadership or Level 3 in Outdoor Education, Development Training, Recreation.
A number of centres across the UK offer full-time courses which lead to NGB awards. A full list of training providers is available on the Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL) website.
Increasingly, employers expect their staff to have professional status as an Accredited Practitioner of the Institute for Outdoor Learning (APIOL), which complements their NGB awards. Accreditation is assessed through evidence of experience and an interview. It demonstrates that the individual has a high standard of skill and experience.
Several NGBs are currently working with sports coach UK to develop the new UK Coaching Certificate (UKCC), which is designed to bring increased professionalism to coaching.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is essential in this industry and instructors must regularly update their skills. This is usually paid for by an employer.
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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed
An outdoor activities instructor should:
- Have leadership qualities and teamwork skills.
- Be skilled in a range of outdoor activities.
- Be willing to learn new skills.
- Have a good level of physical fitness.
- Have good eyesight and hearing.
- Be enthusiastic, with a sense of humour.
- Be good at motivating individuals and groups.
- Be good at explaining things to people of all ages and abilities.
- Have a responsible attitude towards health and safety.
- Stay calm and deal efficiently with accidents and emergencies.
- Be able to control groups.e willing and able to look after children.
Your Long Term Prospects
Permanent staff may be promoted to chief instructor, co-ordinator, deputy head or head of centre. Although some of these positions are largely office-based, candidates are still expected to have all the necessary NGB qualifications.
Some candidates, with the right experience and financial backing, may set up their own centres, whilst others may become freelance as a specialist in a particular activity.
There may also be opportunities working for equipment manufacturers and governing bodies.
Some organisations have activity centres abroad.
Get Further Information
Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL),
The Barn, Plumpton Old Hall,
Cumbria CA11 9NP
Tel: 01768 885800
Hackthorpe Hall, Hackthorpe,
Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2HX
Tel: 01931 740000
77-91 New Oxford Street,
London WC1A 1PX
Tel: 020 7632 2000
Sports Coach UK,
114 Cardigan Road,
Headingley, Leeds LS6 3BJ
Tel: 0113 274 4802
Sport Leaders UK,
23-25 Linford Forum, Rockingham Drive,
Linford Wood, Milton Keynes MK14 6LY
Tel: 01908 689180
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