4th September 2019

Ask us anything: How do I get started as an outdoor instructor?

Written by Georgia Colman

We asked you to ask us anything; in this article Steve Worth shines a light on @mattdarli92's question 'How do i get started as an outdoor instructor?'

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A while back we asked you to send in your questions for our instructors to answer; @mattdarli92 on Instagram asked:

 

“What’s the best way to get started on a guiding/instruction career?”

Well in this article, former Centre Assistant and Plas y Brenin instructor Steve Worth does his best to answer a question with many answers! Thanks to @mattdarli92 for getting in touch. If you have something you’d like our instructors to shine a light on, ask us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and we’ll put your question in the hat.

There are a few ways to get into the outdoors. Depending on where you’re at and where you want to go,  whether you want a quick fix or a slow transition into the industry, your motivation and situation may influence which option is best for you to choose..

 

1. Trainee Schemes

One option is to take a job as a trainee, such as an apprenticeship or centre assistant role. These may last 12+ months and they are great way to learn about the outdoor industry at grassroots level. These kind of jobs have value because they play a huge role in young peoples’ personal and social development, and as a trainee you get to learn from and shadow experienced instructors and see first hand the benefits of learning outside the classroom and how outdoor activities are a helpful medium for all sorts of development; not just learning new skills or having a go at something new.  If you’re struggling to find the time and money to spend on qualifications, or are still figuring out what path to take, these positions are a good option. Progress will be slower, and the job isn’t always glamourous, often the work is helping out in the day-to-day running of the centre on tasks that can feel far from wild outdoor adventures; but you’ll get to know learn from instructors who’ve been doing it for years who will help and support you throughout your apprenticeship.

The great thing about trainee schemes is that when you finish them, you’ll feel prepared to start off in the industry as you’ll have had an opportunity to learn from other instructors and figure out the path you want to take. I genuinely think they are a great way to start off.

Trainee schemes aren’t high earning jobs but that is offset as you are generally remunerated with accommodation, food and usually, some nationally recognised National Governing Body (NGB) qualifications thrown into the package too. Trawl outdoor centre websites for trainee schemes, weigh up which offers the best or most number of NGB award opportunities and if you’re not sure, it’s always worth phoning up or sending in an email asking for clarification. Plas y Brenin runs a Customer Service Advisor (CSA) scheme – if you are interested in keeping up to date and being the first to know when we are accepting applications, sign up to our newsletter and follow us on social media.

2. Fast Track Schemes

Fast track instructor schemes can vary in length. Plas y Brenin offers one that is 4 months long, and involves intensive skills training, starting off dipping your toe in all sorts of disciplines, and then specialising down into a key area of interest.

The major benefit of these courses is hinted at in the name;  the intensive and immersive nature of Fast Track schemes help you get up to a standard whereby you should be ready for an assessment in a National governing body award. Depending on the length of the scheme, and the level of experience you have going into it, there will never be an iron guarantee that you will leave with every qualification you need to go pro (outdoor qualifications are necessarily pass/fail to guarantee safety and quality). This is one of the reasons you will tend to specialise towards the latter end of your course, to concentrate your learning and better your chances of passing. Often these schemes come with added course days that can be taken up to a year later at the centre, to give you some consolidation time before trying to pass.

If you have the time and the support, fast track schemes can be an amazing opportunity to fully submerge yourself in the outdoors, spending 5 days a week for four months focusing on achieving your goals. You should have the flexibility to pick & choose what you do day to day, and not simply following a ‘set menu’ of activity.

 

Find Out More About Fast Track At Plas y Brenin

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!

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.

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