The qualifications required to become an activity instructor vary. Some centres require qualifications for certain positions, this is frequently the case with Local Authority run centres. They usually ask for NGB (National Governing Body) standard qualifications such as RYA Senior or Dinghy Instructor or BCU 2 Star or BCU UKCC Level 1. Depending on the centre and the skills it is looking for obviously. On the other hand, there are plenty of centres who will take instructors with no previous experience but spend a period of time training them to the required standard, almost like an apprentice scheme. This means that you get the training thrown in for free! which can be very useful when you decide to move on to other jobs in the adventure industry.
How much does an activity instructor earn?
Some companies that take on activity instructors will give you a training allowance style salary that will come in at around the minimum wage. If you already have experience or some of the sought after National Governing Body qualifications then you are probably looking at a salary between £12,000 to £16,000 on average, depending upon your experience and qualifications of course. For more senior instructor positions you may be able to earn up to £24,000.
Another factor to take into account is that many positions have live in accommdation which is often subsidised or even free. The same goes for your food, so your outgoings are much lower. With some experience you may be able to work as a freelance instructor. Working for more than one centre can increase your earning potential.
What does an activity instructor do?
We spoke to Anita, an activity instructor working for an activity centre here in the UK and asked how she got the job, and to describe a typical week of work.
Anita Colbier - Multi activity instructor
"Before I started working here I didn't really have any experience, nor any relevant qualifications, so I was lucky to be invited for an interview. I had just finished my A levels and decided to take a break before starting Uni. The interview was over a full day at the centre, along with perhaps a hundred other people. We took part in some activities and did some team games. We all knew the senior staff were watching and assessing us, but it wasn't intimidating, and everyone was friendly. There was also a more formal interview which lasted about half an hour then I was offered a position for the upcoming season. Speaking to some of the other successful candidates later, a couple of them had worked for similar companies before and they said the selection process really varies from centre to centre, with some offering the position almost on CV alone, while others are even more stringent than here; involving a second interview and assessment. I think the assessment day was a great way to get a feel for the place and the people to see whether it is somewhere you are going to enjoy. After all, working and living on site, it's not like a nine to five job where you go home at the end of the day, so it is really important to be happy.
I have been here almost a full season now and have managed to pass the National Small-bore Rifles Association Award, Level One Canoe and BELA (Basic Expedition Leader Award). I'd say not to let a lack of experience put you off applying. Some places do like qualified instructors and will list any awards they would like you to have in their job description. It cuts down their training costs and means you can slot into their activity centre with minimal disruption. Other centres, like this one, are happy to take people who they can train to do things their way. I like this approach as it means you get good on the job training and they are investing in you as a person. It is an incentive to stay and to work hard. I have some proper qualifications now which will look good on my CV when I come to apply for future adventure jobs.
What do I do. Basically my role as an activity instructor means I take groups of children, sometimes, adults, for activity sessions usually lasting about two hours. I show them how to use the safety equipment - hard hats, ropes, depending on the activity, before each session, then teach them how to get the most from each activity. Sometimes they have tried something before, that can be more difficult as they don't listen as well, especially children who are keen to show off to their peers. Perhaps they think they already know how to do something, where they may not have been formally taught and have picked up bad habits. But most of the time they are completely new to it and take in everything you say, like a sponge.
The best parts of the job are that every day is different. The sunny days are more fun that those when it rains and you get really muddy, but it's all good fun and you have a laugh with your fellow activity instructors. One day you are teaching a group how to canoe, then next day you are teaching another group how to climb and abseil. It is also cool to see the smiles on the kids faces when they learn something new, and to know that you were the one that gave them that new skill.
I had never really thought I would be suited to teaching, but being able to combine that with being outside in the fresh air, rather than stuck in an office is fantastic. I still plan to go to Uni but this experience will be great for my CV, and who knows, I am come back to adventure education."