The Outdoor Sector offers a wide range of options for people of all ages.
If you work in the outdoor sector you can expect to meet people with a passion for the outdoor environment, a desire to meet and get to know others, a love of developing knowledge, skills and experience, and a willingness to contribute to a strong team atmosphere.
There are full-time, part-time, voluntary and self-employment opportunities in delivering, leading or managing outdoor learning as well as in operations, hospitality, logistics, accounts, maintenance, etc.
What is working in outdoor learning like?
Working in the outdoors to provide fun, developmental and often transformational experiences to children and adults can be a rewarding and deeply fulfilling. You can turn a personal interest in an outdoor adventurous activity or appreciation of nature and the natural environment into something more than a hobby.
If engaging others in your passion and helping them learn, develop and grow as individuals is what gets you out of bed in the morning come rain or shine, you can do it again and again in outdoor learning. It’s a lifestyle thing.
What will you need to teach, instruct or lead outdoor learning?
Roles in the sector include outdoor activity instructor, environmental education leader, or activity tutor. You may specialise in one activity or topic or provide a range of experiences. You are likely to be involved in setting up and running events for school children, young people, families or adults over a few hours, a full day or longer. Some aspects of this may happen indoors too – such as planning and reviewing experiences with groups.
Whatever your subject or activity, you need six qualities to work in outdoor learning:
The Outdoor Learning community expects its colleagues to actively promote inclusion, equality and participation by all; to overtly respect the environment and encourage behaviours in others that preserves it; to encourage all participants regardless of aptitude to achieve to their limits; to promote on-going use of the outdoors and onward progression.
What will you gain?
Working in Outdoor Learning is a foundation for your personal, social and professional life. Many employers value the transferable skills (like planning, motivating others, communicating, taking responsibility, can-do attitude, etc.) that people who work in outdoor learning can bring to their future jobs.
Who could you work with?
You might work with children, young people, young adults, families, or adults. Many people specialise in one or two areas. Some people work across several areas of outdoor learning.
Who can you work for?
Most people who work full time in outdoor learning work with a residential centre, outdoor centre, activity provider, expedition provider, holiday company, or national or country park. You’ll also find Outdoor Learning professionals in pre-schools, schools, national parks, and with many youth organisations, in fact anywhere where people are learning in the natural environment.
What about volunteering?
Volunteers have always been a core part of the outdoor sector. Giving your time to help others benefit from the magic of an outdoor learning experience is very rewarding. You’ll find volunteers in schools, outdoor sports clubs, wildlife trusts, summer camps, and youth groups like scouts, guides, etc.
What roles are there?
Every employer or organisation will have their own structure and titles for their staff. In general, the roles in outdoor learning tend to fall into four areas:
Where do I start?
Whether you have just completed school or university, are changing your career, want to give back to society, or looking to make the most of retiring early, there are many routes into in Outdoor Learning. All ages are welcome but you need to be at least 18 to have instructional or leadership responsibility. There is no upper age limit.
If you are new to the sector, here are some ways to get into outdoor learning. They each have their pro’s and con’s. If you can, talk to someone who has been there and done it so you can see which ones would be the best fit for you.
Will it help if I complete a higher education course?
That very much depends on your aspirations and interests and the needs of the organisation you want to work with. Have a look at the IOL Approved HE Courses - they have all demonstrated the course is relevant for working in outdoor learning, the teaching staff are skilled, knowledgeable and experienced, and the institution shows active support for IOL and the sector.
Will I need specific qualifications or awards?
When you begin working in the outdoors, most organisations will look for and value your experience and commitment to activities in the outdoors and provide access to specialist training as required. You will need to be up-to-date with first aid, safeguarding and data protection and be deemed “competent” in the subject or activity before you lead an outdoor learning session or programme.
- If you want to work specifically with adventurous activities then awards provided by the National Governing Bodies (NGB) of outdoor sports such as climbing, canoeing, mountain biking, orienteering, sailing, etc. may be required.
- If you are working in environmental education then a degree or knowledge of geography, geology, environmental science, or the local flora and fauna will be relevant. The IOL Bushcraft Competency Certificate or a Forest School Practitioner award can also be helpful.
What about freelance work?
The outdoor sector has a strong tradition of using skilled freelance staff to support a range of programmes. To work freelance you will need to offer relevant experience and technical knowledge and skills in subjects/activities. You will also need to be up to date with your DBS, D1, First Aid, Safeguarding and Data Protection awareness.
The IOL Guide to Working Freelance in Outdoor Learning is a useful starting point
Can I work for myself?
Absolutely. Many people work freelance. Some run their own business providing outdoor learning experiences direct to clients on a part-time or full-time basis.
Developing your career
The Institute for Outdoor Learning can support you throughout your career.
Where can I get my questions answered?
The IOL Home Nation and Regions are your first port of call. They hold meetings, workshops and conferences where you can get to know your local outdoor learning community, find out about opportunities in your area and talk through the options of where to start, and where to go next.
Working in Outdoor Learning