Perhaps you hate the thought of spending your working life in an office or laboratory? There are alternatives – here are some things to consider if you want to work in the outdoors.
Choice of career
You may have a degree in agriculture, forestry or environmental science which has developed the skills needed to start your outdoor career.
Do your parents own a farm? If not, you will almost certainly need good contacts to obtain one of the few jobs available in agriculture or forestry. Environmental science jobs are more common, but the number of people seeking environment-related jobs is much greater than the number of vacancies available.
Jobs working for National Park Authorities or environmental organisations such as the National Trust or the RSPB attract large numbers of applications. Successful candidates almost always have CVs packed with many years of relevant voluntary experience.
One of the largest areas of employment for in the outdoors is in ‘activity tourism’ – organising and leading rock climbing, kayaking, mountain walking and similar activities, whether for children or adults.
In addition to the conventional holiday companies, there are many new ‘events’ companies that may provide employment opportunities. These may provide anything from triathlons for adults to expeditions for school groups.
The growth of legislation, particularly in health & safety, means that, for anything more than very basic jobs, qualifications will be required. If you are an excellent canoeist, or an experienced mountain climber, skier, surfer, or yachtsman, do make sure you can prove it by having the appropriate certificates.
If you have good experience, many places will offer short courses to enable you to gain the relevant certificates. Check with the relevant governing body for your sport.
If you have relevant certificates in one or two areas but would like to broaden your experience, have a look at (paid) work experience programmes such as those offered by the Plas Menai watersports centre in North Wales.
Perhaps you just want a gap year working in the outdoors before starting a conventional career. This is fine – there are many opportunities with tour operators either over the summer season or as ski guides during the winter.
If you want to work as a ski host or ski leader, do ensure that you have the appropriate certificates of qualification and that they are accepted in your chosen ski resort. Despite EU rules, France in particular has a reputation for making it difficult for non-nationals to work on the ski slopes.
Developing your CV
A gap year or two can add many skills and experiences, such as dealing with people or living and working overseas, to your CV.
But do be aware of the dangers of having too many ‘gap years’. If you return to the UK with a five or six-year ‘gap’, you may be competing against recent graduates for entry-level jobs in conventional careers while your former academic classmates are looking for their second or third promotion.
So if you do want multiple gap years, consider getting some management experience with holiday companies rather than continuing to work in entry-level jobs. It may be less fun – perhaps catching up on paperwork when your colleagues are out in the bars of Val D’Isere or St.Anton – but it may be helpful in persuading an employer to offer you a job if you later decide to take up a conventional career for family or other reasons.
If you find you enjoy management, it is possible to have long-term careers with holiday companies. But do be aware most of them operate on ‘shallow pyramid’ structures, with very few well-paid posts in relation to the number of entry-level and junior posts.
Start your own business?
An alternative to working for someone else is to set up an outdoor-related business, either alone or with others. Almost all universities have people who can give advice and support – including, occasionally, access to grants – to help with this. Ask your careers service, or google ‘graduate enterprise’ or ‘business start-up’ plus the name of your university, for more details.
Unless you are very fortunate – perhaps finding a relevant job with a local authority or government ‘quango’ – the pay in outdoor jobs will be significantly below the average graduate salary, with little chance of significant progression.
Money isn’t everything – especially at the start of your career – but lack of it can be frustrating. You may have a low-cost lifestyle, especially if you have been used to living as a student, but you may also eventually want to get a mortgage, or be able to support a family.
So there are plusses and minuses to working in the outdoors, but if it suits you, do go for it!
Nigel Peacock is a research and training consultant in areas related to business and management. A physicist originally, he started his career working on EU collaborative research projects at BT Labs, Martlesham, and developed an interest in R&D management. Following a mid-career MBA at Henley he moved to Bangor University, serving as Director of Business Development & Enterprise. His current interests include skills development and research into work-life balance.