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Occupational Standards

Supporting education, training and giving people control of their career

Work-ready standards and qualifications covering every role in outdoor learning


IOL is the professional development body for the UK’s outdoor learning sector, committed to supporting, developing and ensuring professionals and organisations are acknowledged for contributing valuable cultural, community and educational assets for the UK.


IOL are working for a single UK wide professional and apprenticeship standards framework for our sector and are driving the development of relevant and high-quality education and training for the outdoor-learning workforce. This will enable new starters, career developers and employers to easily assess the appropriate qualifications that meet the agreed minimum standards within key roles.

  1. Occupational Standards focus on UK wide holistic roles within the sector. Education/training courses aligned with an Occupational Standard demonstrate they offer a “work-ready” qualification or award.
  2. Activity Specialisms are technical activity or workplace specific skills, knowledge, understanding and experience defined by accepted subject experts (e.g. canoe coaching, rock climbing instruction, dinghy sailing instruction, etc.)
  3. Population Specialisms define the knowledge, skills and understanding for working with particular participants or in specific contexts (e.g. working with children 0-5 years, working with inactive people, etc.).


IOL Outdoor Workforce Map


Awarding and Governing bodies have a longstanding focus and respected expertise in Activity Specialisms. IOL work is focused on Occupational Standards and Population Specialisms.

Professional recognition through IOL is aligned to meeting the minimum requirements of a relevant Occupational Standard.

The IOL Outdoor Workforce Map illustrates many different job roles in the sector. Every employer or organisation will have their own structure and titles for their staff and preferred route into employment, however occupational standards provide a common reference point for volunteers, employees, employers and training and education specialists.


Professional Standards in the workforce


Developing occupational standards

Occupational standards are developed in consultation across the UK and are “employer-led” and “education/training informed”. They are living documents that are reviewed, refined and improved, to align with workforce needs.

IOL have specifically managed the creation of:

  • The Outdoor Activity Instructor (OAI) Occupational Standard - is the reference for OAI Apprenticeship in England, Level 3 outdoor courses from Pearson and NCFE, and awarding and governing body instructor courses. We are working with Skills Active to use this as a basis for new Apprenticeships in Scotland, and Qualifications Wales to open up access to training/education aligned to this standard.
  • The Outdoor Learning Specialist (OLS) Occupational Standard is the reference for the soon to be launched OLS Apprenticeship in England and higher education courses throughout the UK. It is in final consultation to ensure it meets the needs of all home nations.

Alignment to occupational standards

Occupational standards give educators and trainers a common reference point to align what they offer with the skills and knowledge employers have identified as fit-for-purpose in a role.

  1. All educational institutions, awarding organisations and governing bodies are asked to review their offer and complete the mapping process to show their awards / qualifications are aligned with a relevant occupational standard.
  2. Alignment confirms that a qualification or award covers the knowledge skills and behaviours described in this occupational standard. Employing organisations and education and training providers should ensure that education, training and experience gained through an aligned qualification or award has the breadth and depth appropriate to their context.
  3. IOL no longer support ‘legacy qualifications’ aligned to the National Occupational Standards where an IOL Occupational Standard has been published.
  4. We are committed to ensuring regulators and funders in the home countries align their apprenticeship frameworks to the occupational standards at the appropriate review point.

To add more weight to our IOL voice with Home Nation Government Departments, we work closely with the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) and take a common approach to holding occupational standards for the UK’s sport, physical activity and outdoors sectors.


Occupational Standards

Role Role Description Standard Notes
Assistant Outdoor Activity Instructor Supports the provision of safe and enjoyable outdoor activity sessions In development
Outdoor Activity Instructor

The person that can run safe and enjoyble activities and experiences in the outdoors for children and adults in order to meet agreed outcomes.

An Outdoor Activity Instructor supervises and guides activities and experiences such as forest schools, canoeing, sailing, climbing, surfing, cycling, hillwalking, archery, bushcraft, rock pooling, geology, plant identification, habitat or wildlife walks, etc. They will:

  • Prepare for the session – gather information about the participants and resources for the activity.
  • Deliver the session – brief participants, maintain safety, provide on-going instruction and encouragement.
  • Meet the session outcome – support participants to achieve an outcome (such as new skills / knowledge, thrill seeking, personal challenge, “can-do” mindset, etc.).
  • Close the session – hand-over participants, return resources and equipment, log any issues.

The specific competence of each individual will be conditional on their activity specialisms and population specialisms, and the level and duration of their education, training and experience.

IOL Occupational Standard - Outdoor Activity Instructor

Latest version November 2021

Download the education/training course mapping document to demonstrate alignment with this occupational standard.

Outdoor Learning Specialist

The person that can design, plan, deliver and evaluate programmes that use outdoor activities and experiences to provide progressive learning and change that meet participant, customer and stakeholder needs.

In smaller organisations Outdoor Learning Specialists are likely to perform all duties related to establishing outcomes, planning, preparing, leading, managing, evaluating and reporting the impact of an outdoor learning programme. In larger organisations their role may specialise in duties related to programme design and delivery, customer relationship management, staffing and team support, evaluation and impact, or safety and risk management for example.

The specific competence of each individual will be conditional on their activity specialisms and population specialisms, and the level and duration of their education, training and experience.

IOL Occupational Standard - Outdoor Learning Specialist

First Version September 2021

Get in touch for assistance mapping your HE course to this standard.

Team Leader/Duty Manager Front line manager with responsibilities for supporting, managing and developing team members and projects First draft not yet available In development
Will be similar to Apprenticeship Standards for:
Team Leader/Supervisor, level 3, funding £4,500
Leisure Duty Manager, level 3, funding £5,000
Hospitality Manager, level 4, funding £6,000
Operations Manager/Centre Manager Responsibility for input into strategic planning, creating and delivering operational plans, managing projects, leading and managing teams, managing change, financial and resource management, talent management, supporting people through coaching & mentoring First draft not yet available In development
Will be similar to Apprenticeship Standards for:
Hospitality Manager, level 4, funding £6,000
Operations / Departmental Manager, level 5, funding £7,000
General Manager/Chartered Manager Responsibility for people, projects, operations and/or services to deliver long term organisational success, with the professional recognition of their ability to deliver impact, behave ethically and demonstrate their commitment to continual learning and development First draft not yet available In development
Will be similar to Apprenticeship Standards for:
Chartered Manager (Degree), level 6, funding £22,000
Chartered Outdoor Learning Professional Not strictly an occupational standard, to become a Chartered Outdoor Professional, applicants will have to demonstrate that they are operating at a “higher level” than their relevant Occupational Standard and that they can demonstrate impact over time. Professional recognition will be the gateway for access to the chartered process where members will have to show they:


  • Shape effective outdoor learning by exercising autonomy and judgement within broad parameters
  • Build programmes of learning using outdoor experiences by drawing on relevant research
  • Think and operate medium / long term and plan and develop courses of action
  • Initiate and lead complex tasks and processes and positively influence the work of colleagues
  • Deliver value to customers and the profession and role model professional practice
First draft not yet available In development
See Horizons Autumn 2020


The development of occupational standards

  1. This work began following a review of IOL Professional Standards in 2016.
  2. IOL aim to reference or publish an Occupational Standard for roles where employers recognise a common definition of the skills, knowledge and behaviours required. We started with the role of Outdoor Activity Instructor - based on the apprenticeship standard developed with the support of over 40 employers.
  3. Occupational Standards will be added to, modified or removed in order to ensure they represent employers needs in a professional and skilled workforce. They are living documents.
  4. Members are encouraged to input into the standards as we develop them. Please comment to IOL Professional Standards Manager.


The case for occupational standards

Occupational Standards are a key element is the drive for wider valuing of outdoor learning in UK society and stronger public confidence in the professional status of our workforce.

  1. Defined standards for occupations in the sector allow us to promote career pathways, give consistency in professional training and help us to recruit and retain talent in the sector.
  2. We don’t attract talent to the sector because we can’t articulate the breadth of opportunities available in it. We lose talent because we can’t describe and offer people pathways where they can take control of their career progression.
  3. Without occupational standards giving a common language, we have no insight or figures on the skills or numbers of people employed in the sector, and can’t track any changes or trends.
  4. Occupational standards allow us to use money wisely - employers can tailor staff induction and training when we know the knowledge and skills our staff currently have, and the knowledge and skills they need to progress.
  5. Occupational standards are an essential foundation for IOL to become a Chartered Professional Institute.



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