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Training for a Career

  Training for a Career

A Map of IOL Organisation Members where you might find training opportunities is Organisation Member Map

You can train for a career in the outdoors full time, part time or on the job.

On the Job Training. It clearly helps to have qualifications when you are applying for a post but it is not essential if you are prepared to volunteer or accept low salaries in exchange for training. A good employer will provide a full induction training programme and may offer you opportunities to train for and be assessed in certain qualifications even for a seasonal appointment. An active interest in outdoor activities will help your application as will involvement in youth work as a group member or a young leader.

Some employers offer Volunteer or Training Placements for which you or a training agency pay. In this case you should have a number of opportunities to gain awards whilst on the job. The awards most likely to be offered are outdoor coaching awards from the various governing bodies of sport covering activities such as orienteering, sailing, canoeing, caving, mountainwalking, single pitch climbing, etc. Most of these awards are soon to change so that they are recognised as National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ's) for coaches. An important award to obtain is a first aid certificate as this is needed in all outdoor work. It may also be possible to obtain NVQ's in facility operations through opportunities such as these.

There are a few Youth Training and Modern Apprenticeship schemes available for people interested in this field of work but are unable to find employment. To see if there is one near you ask at your job centre.

When selecting an organisation ensure that they work in the sector in which you would like to operate ie outdoor activity holidays (recreation) or outdoor education.

  Further Education

It has been possible for a number of years to take an award in Leisure Studies which specialises in outdoor recreation. It is now possible to follow a similar course with an outdoor education option. Colleges to consider include Bicton, Norfolk, West Cumbria, Reaseheath College, Hartpury College, Cheshire and Amersham and West Sussex Colleges of Further Education.

These courses will often give you the chance to gain governing body awards as well. They will also include extended placements to help you practice your skills.

  Higher Education

Degrees are available in Recreation Management (with an outdoor focus), Outdoor Education for teachers (BEd), Outdoor Education for youth workers (this offers a diploma that can lead to a degree) and general degrees in Outdoor and Environmental Studies which do not tie you to a particular profession. Universities working in these areas include Lancaster, Heriot Watt, Exeter, I.M. Marsh in Liverpool, Strathclyde and Carnegie. They often prefer mature students as some work and life experience is a major asset.

However, unless you are sure of the profession you wish to follow, a wider range of degrees can form an excellent foundation for a career in OE. Consider any Environmental Science, Psychology or a teaching degree in another specialism eg PE or Science or the Humanities. Several professions other than teaching and youth work can make use of the outdoors. There is a growing interest amongst the Probation and Prison Services, Social Work and Mental Health Workers. Consider a professional training in one of these fields before specialising in OE with a post graduate course.

Beware of degrees that mention an outdoor pursuits module as part of the course but not as a specialist subject. They are excellent as a taster and for personal development but do not give you a professional qualification in OE.

Post graduate qualifications are available in Outdoor Education (eg PGCE, Bangor University; Masters, Heriot Watt; Advanced Certificate, Lancaster University) and Recreation Management (eg Masters, Heriot Watt). Shorter ten week courses are also available at the National Mountain Centre in North Wales. These courses are suitable for further professional development within the field or for people taking a sideways step into a new area.

  Professional Accreditation with IOL

The Institute has developed a range of Professional Accreditation for practitioners at different stages of practice within the outdoor learning profession.

  Professional Development with IOL

Many people combine a career in outdoor learning with professional skills, or move into and out of the outdoor sector as part of their career.  IOL wants to encourage practitioners to value the professional skills they bring to the outdoor sector from outside, and to become more aware of the skills they can take from the outdoor sector to any role they may take on later in life.

Also see the Professional Development area of this site.

IOL offers various CPD workshops and courses through its regions throughout the year. IOL members pay special low rates and get priority booking. For the current IOL events bookable on line click here and follow the link to IOL Events.


A number of people have been attracted by the opportunity to take a masters degree in Outdoor Education in the USA. This is certainly worth a look if you wish to broaden your experience with the perspective of a different country. Americans are very articulate about the learning process and have developed expertise in different fields to the UK e.g wilderness travel and therapeutic outdoor work. Contact the Association for Experiential Education for help. 'Outdoor Education' tends to mean 'Environmental Education' in North America. Look for Adventure or Experiential Education courses if this does not suit you. A number of higher degree courses in OE exist in Australia as well. You will need to consider funding and visa arrangements carefully.

  Vocational Training

National Vocational Qualifications can be gained by on the job training and are a very flexible in approach. They are based on work based assessment rather than exams or tests. Awards exist for Outdoor Education, Facility Management and Training and Development. The latter two are progressive leading to a high level of professional standing. The last can lead to a masters level qualification.

The awards are especially useful for people who have gained experience through work but never gone to college. They can also form a natural and easy pathway from one professional field to another eg from teaching into training.

An advantage of NVQs is that they are accepted as professional qualifications throughout the European Community.

  Short Courses

Many training organisations offer short courses in a wide range of topics related to our field. Other topics that can extend your skills in useful ways include Counselling, Management, Care Work and the Creative Arts. Outdoor Education is, above all, an approach to learning and so many skills can extend your scope into new markets or activities. The limit is your imagination. It is not a structured career but it can be a very rewarding and constantly changing one.