Occupational Standards

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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.

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.
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.)
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.).



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.


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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • IOL no longer support ‘legacy qualifications’ aligned to the National Occupational Standards where an IOL Occupational Standard has been published.
  • 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 



Assistant Outdoor Activity Instructor

Role Description

Supports the provision of safe and enjoyable outdoor activity sessions


In development


Outdoor Activity Instructor

Role Desciption

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.


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Latest version November 2021

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


Outdoor Learning Specialist

Role Description

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.


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First Version September 2021

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


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