Advice - Outdoor instructor

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Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by James.xv »

Whats your advice on getting in?
How did you get in?


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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by eeonz »

I'm on my second season at a local outdoor education centre - my first season was a work placement in the second year of my outdoorsy degree. My advice would be:

- Try not to pay for too much. I've paid for 90% of my NGB courses as they weren't included in my degree. A friend who didn't go to uni managed to get into a well known outdoor ed company and has had everything paid for. Take advantage of any schemes at club level that sponsor paddlers through the UKCC scheme. I'd certainly think hard before paying for some of the instructor courses that cost upwards of £5k - price up individual courses. If you do have to pay, then take it on the chin - its an investment in your future.

- Uni courses are useful, to offer that little bit extra to an employer. Make use of your time at uni though - get into the clubs, get out cragging and river running etc whilst you have the chance. If you do get on an outdoor degree, try and pick one in a good location - near the Peaks/Lakes/N. Wales etc. Some uni courses don't offer NGBs, so be prepared to spend time and money on top of the degree to get qualified. Degrees are not the be all and end all in this industry, but will be useful if you decided to retrain for a different job later on. Having a teaching qualification is probably more useful than a degree. Some centres have instructors with a PGCE on a teacher's salary.

- I work with a lot of guys who are on BTEC/ND/HND outdoor education courses. As someone who went through the "traditional route" of A levels and degree, I'm very jealous. They seem to enjoy what they're doing and do plenty of practical - so why not? Given a second chance I would have strongly considered that route, its well worth looking into.

- Don't be a one trick pony. Eventually you may specialise, but at first you need to be able to do lots of things. The benchmark at a lot of centres is ML, SPA, UKCC L2. But at inner city centres they may want BOF orienteering, GNAS archery, Fencing etc... or sailing and powerboat qualifications if working at a lake. Keep your personal skills up too.

- Volunteer where you can. If you can, get yourself to a local outdoor ed centre and get some work experience in. Get a feel for what its like to coach young groups and those with different needs and abilities. It's also a good chance to plagarise as many coaching techniques and games from other coaches!

- Be prepared for low wages initially. I don't think many people are in this job for the money. The lifestyle and the impact you can have on individuals is fantastic - if you can enjoy that and overlook the paypacket then you're in the right job!

I hope this helped and wish you the best of luck if you decide to go into the outdoor industry. Even if its just for a few years, I very much doubt you'll regret it. If you need any more help at all give me a shout - or post up on here. Theres plenty of people on here with much more experience than me! Your outdoor resource!

Jay Oram
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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by Jay Oram »

Hey, think I did the same as eeonz, a degree, NGB's then just got offered a job in a centre.

I know a lot of people got their first taste by volunteering first of all then, when an assistant instructor/seasonal instructor job came up they got first dibs. My job was offered because it was my Local Education Authority Centre and they are interested in helping people from the area, try to see if you have a LEA centre for your area. Also assistant jobs I've gone for seem to want experience and lots of willingness to work, then NGB's second.

Remember to try and have fun and I think networking is the way forward,

Have fun, see you around,


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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by water_mad »

It depends on what kind of instructor you want to be, either pure adventure only or pure field studies or a bit of both.
As someone who employs people to work at my centre we look for lots of things including experience working with chldren so things like volunteering at a local school earns you brownie points. Commitment to the outdoors for example has an outdoor hobbie they are passionate about and spend time and effort pursuing.
NGBs are important but you have two choises. You either need to get yourself a selection of land and water NGB's and experience and then apply for an instructor job. Wages vary but are generally low.
The other option is to get yourself a firstaid ticket and maybe a low level coaching award, or some limited experience with kids and have some personal experience in a sport and apply for an assistant instructor job. You can expect about 6k a year which isnt much but you should be asking at an interview what training you will get during your time with them. For example we take people with no qualifications and they leave with REC first aid, GNAS, Pool attendent and a varienty of inhouse qualifications, we dont do paddling at work.
The thrid option is to do a course at uni in Outdoor education, places like edinburgh offer a good course as well as other places
the fourth option is to spent money and go on an intensive instructor programme for about 12 weeks, this will get you NGB's but you need to back it up with teaching experience. You also need to look at what you are going to get out of it as things like ML training and SPA training are useless to me unless you have the assessment otherwise i still have to put you through inhouse training.

You could do it the other long but almost job assurend way which is the way i did it which was to get a degree (nothing related to outdoors) then did a PGCE to train as a science teacher and then got a job teaching and then transfered to outdoor ed having done a couple of environmental science units to boost my knowledge.


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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by TheKrikkitWars »

When you say outdoor instructor, what do you mean:

There are three different paths I can see stemming from it:
Outdoor Education: working for an LEA, trying to achieve educational goals using the outdoors as a teaching medium, requires teacher training.
Instructing: Working for smaller council centers, or big organisations like PGL, management qualifications could offer advantages if you wanted to progress beyond instruction.
Coaching: Either as an individual, or as part of a center like PYB, Glenmore Lodge or Tollymore; will require specialisation into a couple of fields at a relatively high level, commitment in spite of poor pay and lots of work, and quite a lot of time to develop your skills. There are options like Glenmore's Nightwatch, or the PYB Center Assistant programme which will allow you to advance yourself more quickly.

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by matt_outandabout »

^ Krikkit wars is right on the three streams. Experience says that you can move around some between them but it is hard.

It is (and I am sure you know this) not a career that is all fun, adventure and lots of money. It is often a career that is low paid, repetitive and low on adventure (and wet Wednesdays on the High Ropes in November, or that sixth trip down that section of river in a fortnight with 'challenging' groups). It is a career if you like people, and like seeing them learn, grow and be challenged. It is a career where we need more long term, dedicated, well qualified and professional people with a love of the wild, adventure and people.

It is also a career where most people are dyslexic (7/10 of our staff over the last 40 years according to the boss) and 'active' learners - the 'best' in this line are often 'unique' and gifted - but not in a normal UK educational establishment or business sense!

I got into this career following a trip with secondary school to Hawse End in the Lakes, and the schools own sailing club. Man, something I was good at, and could do at my level, with people who 'got' me.

I started rigging sailing boats and handing out life jackets at Glenridding as a summer and Saturday job, got onto an outdoor ed degree at IM Marsh, and then spent 10 years in the industry at various private, charitable and LEA centres. I 'slid out' of things unintentionally and ran my own businesses for a while in property and sustainable building systems, before realising I spent my days driving or staring at spreadsheets. A couple of years back tried to make a move back into outdoor ed. It took a while and many disappointments at interview before I landed where I am. I am really enjoying being back in the industry - leading and teaching another team of instructors and really trying to put the adventure back into what we do. I also live in an amazing place, meet fabulous people and love the fact that I still have so much to learn.

'We' (Abernethy Ardgour School of Adventure Leadership) run a year long training course for instructors, and previously I was not a fan of such courses. I am however changing my mind having employed a number of people from the course, who have turned out to be excellent. I also (and you can accuse me of being biased) think that it is one of the best courses on offer in the UK.

'We' (Abenethy Ardeonaig) also run a 'proper' 3 year apprenticeship programme, and this is superb. I have three apprentices at present, who all arrived with some sports coaching experience or a couple of basic 'tickets', and through the three years gain not only massive group and practical outdoor ed. experience, but also a wealth of tickets (ML, SPA, UKCC L2+ 4*, RYA Ins, GNAS, BOF etc etc). OK, it is low pay for three years, but we do see excellent instructors at the end.

I think many of the University courses (such as I did) are no longer as good. There are too many students, not enough contact hours, too few outdoor lectures and minimal opportunity any more to gain real group work experience.

Final (Warning) is that the industry is full of organisations and business that will mislead you, lie to and overwork you. be very careful and speak to staff at the centre without the bosses around - get a real feel for the place...Having said that, I love the work, I love the challenges of people and delivering really good courses that are quite literally life changing.

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by mdj »

As everything that's been said. Plus a lot of centres will try and shaft you in the first few years by overworking you, not investing in you and taking the mick. There's some good employers out there but equally there are some dodgy centres that make tescos look like more of an attractive option.

LEA centres are dwindling - in terms of their willingness to pay teacher wages (20-35k) when they could pay an instructor wage who could offer, in my opinion an equally good level of experience.

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by James.xv »

I'm more thinking to go on an instructor course, i think the uni route would be too expensive and very lil offer NGBS aswell. Although i wouldn't mind doing it as a training program but i don't think there is many.
Any more advice?

Chris Putt
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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by Chris Putt »

Yeah its a pretty difficult one to crack.

Do you already specialise in an activity, I would say if you do, maintain that as a specialism and pick complementary activities to supplement around it- but manke sure you have a knowledge of as many things as possible (if that makes any sense) Im a kayaker and that fits well with Raft Guide, Canyon Guide, Swiftwater rescue instructor. My experience has been to not limit myself just to outdoor pursuits but to also go into industrial and professional training as there is better money and it becomes a year round vocation.

Be unusual and innovative, if you can get a degree or something that would help but most of all I would say get experience.- again make yourself an unusual commodity and make people want to employ you- working as a freelancer for a period of time for loads of different companies works well for this!

Unfortunately as the other guys have said you will have to be willing to work for pretty poor money until you have gained some quals. It wil be hard work if you want to get anywhere in the industry but if you are willing to put in the effort and be an 'outdoor professional' - ie someone who lives, work,s plays and is passionate about the outdoors rather than an extension of a hobby then you will be fine. Above all else never stop learning. Its a trap that a number of instructors that i have come accross fall into that they do a season in the industry, or a couple of qualifications or a course and thats it they are an instructor, the learning is done- that is what differentiates a true professional from the rest the pack that you have to continue to strive to improve and learn

Whats interesting here is that I too studied outdoor ed at IM marsh..........

Hope this is some use

Chris Putt

(email me if you have any questions or anything)
'Too close for missiles, I'm switching to Guns'

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by davidmann »

I worked as an instructor for a few years after uni and then became a teacher of languages and then got a job at a state school. I developed outdoor ed at the school (DofE,paddling,climbing, biking etc...) and then was given a job as head of outdoor ed at the school.

I much prefer this than when I worked in a centre as I can really see the students progress in their chosen sport instead of doing taster sessions which I was doing. It's another route you could take.

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by nickkaric »

I would think twice before doing and intensive course. Centres want experience as well as qualifications, generally if we get a cv for someone who has only done an ITC we make a paper aeroplane and spend a while throwing it around, you get the idea. Although I didn't do it I would recommend going to somewhere like pgl and working for them getting some experience and saving some money if you can,or getting a work placement with the deal being they pay for NGB's for you. You may have to pay for your first NGB yourself make sure its a useful one GNAS is good most centres offer archery, its a very dull course but worth it. The money at one of these centres will be rubbish but unfortunately you can't start at the top.
Might be worth contacting your local scout districts and see if they have a canoing or climbing club which you could help out with. Hope thats of some help, Price up the courses you could be paying £5000 to a company to do you might find its cheaper to do it yourself.

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by James.xv »

Thanks for all the help
I just wondered whats the sort of salary?
Like Ive just had my as level results today and not done too good but i'm thinking of working for a year to get money behind me, and experience climbing, walking, kayaking, i want to do a course that gets me some NGBS then id be willing to work for minimum wage for a while to get some experience then go other countries to get experience too, i was thinking of being a raft guide in America and ski instructor in alps. But then where can i go after this? I know im thinking way ahead but is there enough money to have a family being an instructor maybe higher up like center manger? or even my own company? And do any of you have other qualifications to fall back on? or would you just find a warehouse job or something like that?

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by nickkaric »

The pay across the industry isn't great but we don't do it for the money. A lot of companies will pay just about minimum wage especially if you have few quallies. Unfortunately this is an industry you can't just turn up to and start working unless you go to pgl. I'm not trying to put you of but it will potentially take 5 or more years to get any good money. Also remember that a lot of work is seasonal so you may only be employed for 6 -8 months of the year

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by David Robinson »

Check out salaries on various job adverts will get you the best idea. Institute of Outdoor Learning is a great source of information:

My advice get ready for a lot of commitment and the biggest paper chase of your life. If you don't keep looking for the next ngb, then you'll go stale and probably have to leave the industry for more money. However if you put loads of time and effort into gaining experience you'll keep moving forward, (both professionally and pay packet).

To get you foot through the door it helps to have some kind of NGB, (national governing body award). GNAS is an easy one, four boring days but you walk away as an archery teacher, useful at many centres.

The two big companies to work for are Acorn adventure and PGL. They tend to employ any tom, dick or harry but if you're struggling to find a job then its better than nothing. If you do work for them prepare for crap pay, being worked really hard but it can be an absolutely brilliant experience and a nice kick start to your outdoor career.

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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by Scots_Charles_River »

Lots of good advice on here. I would not pay for a year long course to get NGBs, which you will need 100%.

Get on an apprenticeship or college course and volunteer for scouts etc to get quals. free.

I started as a scout then leader, PGL Hyeres, Dalguise and Embrun and got a free 1st Aid and RYA Sailing Insructor quals. from them. That was kind of a reward for the two seasons commitment.

I then added SPSA and got summer work at Blairvadach, great centre to work at and good free quals. I broadened my skills and got a free RYA Powerboat Fleet rescue certificate. TI Kayak and 3 star kayak too.

I then got a Teaching degree whilst summer working at Blairvadach.

For the last 14 years I have been a full time permanent Tech Teacher but have run a climbing club every week after school and taken my pupils out on various Outdoor learning Trips.

The Scottish Gov. released new policy for Outdour Learning in april so I now don't have to 'justify' outdoor trips. I can see me doing 2-3 days a week OL in 3-5 years.

I recently got FSRT and hope to do the Teacher UKCCL1, FSRT free through my club.

I am happy not being fullt ime in OE as I got long hols, 13 weeks off and every weekend, and a good salary. I can also be selcetive when I do trips rather than do the same wet gorge in november.

I would advise that blending a full teaching qual. with NGBs over the next 5 years would be a target. As said in previous posts, some centres will pay a full teacher's salary and conditions, for a full time Outdoor Instructor.


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Re: Advice - Outdoor instructor

Post by Snakey jake »

Hi James,

Found myself in a similar position to you (only did my GCSE's though) was undecided on what I wanted to, but was in a very fortunate position where I had a very good apprenticeship offered to me, for a council run outdoor centre. My apprenticeship was in my opinion very special, and I was very fortunate.
After three years, I came away with my level 3 inland 5*, coaching process, level 3 training canoe, GNAS, mountainboarding qualification, first aid etc. And more importantly a lot of experience, which is key.
Since then I have worked at a couple of different centres, and done various other things like traveling. But have been able to gain my SPA and ML, which means I now hold a good base of qualifications.
As a result of the apprenticeship, I feel I was pretty well set up for what could be a very fun and prosperous life in the outdoors! Along the way I have met lots of people who have all taken different routes, into the same career, some through uni, some through intensive courses, others through volunteering.
In my opinion none of the above routes are as good as a solid apprenticeship; and here is why I think this:
Uni (I don't know so much about the courses, but I do know the following) is a massive expense, and does not normally provide many/any NGB's, which to be perfectly honest is what you will be employed on. It often focuses on the management side of industry, something you or I will probably not come to be apart of for quite some time yet, I actually like being in the outdoors, and at the moment live a cheap life, so money is not so important for me.
Intensive courses: Expensive, only give a basic qualification set, and in reality really quite a short course, which is often trying to fit in a broad spectrum! After this you still don't really have any experience with dealing with people, which is more than often most of the job. However a course such as this ran well, could and probably is a very good starting point into the outdoors, if not a little pricey (They are expensive, to run hence the big cost)

Voluntary: could be a long and slow way to get qualifications, before you can then fly the nest to actually get a job in the outdoors.

An apprenticeship scheme that is run well, should give you a good balance of getting qualifications for free, gaining the experience you need, and should actually end up paying you in the not to distant future! Just make sure you are making the most out of the situation, and you'l do great!

These are just my views on the industry, I'm only 21 myself and still making decisions all the time on where to go next, and how to push myself to the next level. Its a great place to work, as long as you can except that its unlikely to ever make you rich! But its defiantly funding a very fun lifestyle for me right now!

Hope this helps,


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