3. Qualification Pathways
Another way to get into the industry is to gain your qualifications independently, during your holidays from work or spare time (if you have any!). Signing up to any Mountain Training, British Canoeing or British Cycling qualification scheme requires time and commitment. In the case of Mountain Training, if you are a keen, active hill walker or rock climber, you would attend a training course which would vary in length depending on the discipline and then have a period of consolidation before returning for an assessment. The consolidation period may vary from person to person; assessment prerequisites list minimum numbers of climbs or quality mountain days that candidates must log, try and exceed these if possible, more experience = (hopefully) more confidence on your assessment!
What I would recommend if you want to increase your employability for an outdoor centre is trying to get qualified in a broad range of disciplines, (and get a minibus driving license, an often overlooked but equally important a qualification).
But before you start to think about undertaking a qualification, think about where you would like to be in 5 years… what sort of work would you like to do? Are you just psyched on walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path looking at flora & fauna or do you want to lead people on the Scottish Highlands for example? Have you been sea kayaking mostly but better see yourself as a white water kayaking instructor? Mountain Training British Canoeing and British Cycling offer qualifications for all manner of disciplines from Lowland Leader to Winter Mountain Leader, Performance Sea Kayak Coach to Freestyle Coach, and Level 3 Mountain Bike Leader to BMX Coach and everything in-between; so think about your strategy for where you want to end up as you are making your initial choices.
Doing things independently does tend to take a little time, especially if you’re trying to juggle work and life commitments. Although there’s nothing wrong with this approach, I would suggest if you can trying to volunteer for organisations that would give you access to valuable group experience alongside moving through the qualifications pathway, so that you can get a taste of what it can be like working. It can be quite alarming to be suddenly faced with a group and realise that you know how to keep them safe on the hill, but have no idea what you’re supposed to talk to them about! Volunteering gives you time to settle in and work on your hill-patter, a big part of the job too. You are a host in the mountains too don’t forget.
4. Make yourself employable
Once you have the qualifications, then what do you do..? Make yourself employable by having a range of qualifications; put your CV together and set about making yourself known. Social media is now a popular way of making professional contacts, but nothing is as good as meeting face to face and selling yourself in person. First impressions make a big difference. Join associations relevant to your qualifications if possible, also a good way of networking (a good example might be Mountain Training Association). Do your research on the organisations you want to contact and potentially work for, why do you want to work for them? What skills do you have that would be of benefit to them? Make sure you aren’t an admin nightmare for potential employers by getting your own liability insurance sorted first. Look into getting a DBS criminal records check too, that’s really useful. As previously mentioned being able to drive a minibus is really beneficial as some employers won’t give your CV a second thought if you can’t drive a bus.. (think about it, how are you going to get a group to the crag?)
A final word; it’s what you put into it that makes the difference. No instructors are the same, they may share similar beliefs, interests and might be equally qualified but each one has created their own unique way of delivering their chosen discipline. There’s no overnight solution to making a career in the outdoors work for you. But If you have a passion, that will shine through and drive you through all the steps you need to take on your journey towards the best job in the world. Good luck!
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Steve Worth is a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (MCI) as well as a Winter Mountain Leader (WML) who started off as a centre assistant at Plas y Brenin over 15 years ago and is now a permanent member of staff.