“Now is a good time to be considering a career in the outdoors,” says Andy Robinson, CEO of the Institute for Outdoor Learning. “There are clear movements in wider society to get adults into exercise to combat obesity and heart disease. Becoming an outdoor instructor is a great way of doing something that makes a difference.”

No matter how passionate you are about working outdoors – or how fit and skilled you are – it’s worth noting that if you do fancy being an instructor, you’ve got to be a positive, people person, too. Much of your role will involve motivating others and dealing with challenging situations – not to mention the crappy British weather!

Career change

Meeting a variety of people and helping them to overcome different challenges is one of the things that instructor Jonny Schofield, 25, from Yorkshire loves most about his job. Having left a graduate engineering programme earlier this year to become a rock climbing instructor at Bowles Outdoor Centre near Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, Schofield couldn’t be happier.

“My decision to leave my last job was based on the fact I didn’t want to spend my 20s working behind a desk for 10 hours a day,” he says. “When my expectations of my ‘dream job’ didn’t materialise, I decided to go back to what I enjoyed the most and that was working with people and teaching them new skills.”

He adds that the industry provides opportunities to travel all over the world. “The seasonal demand for jobs means there’s a great variety to my work over the course of a year,” he says. “It sure beats sitting in an office!”

Schofield, who plans to work as a ski instructor in the Alps, Canada or Japan when he finishes at Bowles in November, says it’s important to do your research and find the right job for you.

“There are some fantastic opportunities at similar centres to Bowles that will invest in your skills and allow you to work while you gain more qualifications and experience,” he says. “This will make you more employable to the type of companies that need seasonal staff.”

Sally Jones teaches sport such as sailing and (below) SUP

Getting started

Although there are no entry requirements to be an instructor, employers will want skills in at least one outdoor activity – the more you offer the better.

“It’s best to try a few activities first and decide what you like best,” says Sally Jones, 29, a chief instructor at Hillingdon Outdoor Activities Centre who specialises in watersports. “People normally start off with one activity and then develop their portfolio further.”

Jones, who has worked at Hillingdon for nine years, originally trained in her home county of Essex. As she knew she wanted to be an outdoor instructor when she left school, she took a course in Advanced Leisure and Recreation at Colchester Institute and a sailing course at UKSA in Cowes, Isle of Wight.

However, she gained many of her skills while working at two outdoor centres on the east coast. Schofield also learned a lot while working at Camp America in the US during his uni holidays. 

Next steps

If you like the sound of all this, there are plenty of organisations, such as the Institute for Outdoor Learning (outdoor-learning.org), Skills Active and Sport England, to help you get started. If you want to work with children or young people, you’ll need Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance, too. 

With salaries starting at £12,000 and reaching a high of about £24,000, you don’t become an outdoor activity instructor for the money, but, as Schofield says, you’ll be able to “work towards a great lifestyle rather than riches”. 


London calling

While being an outdoor activity instructor enables you to work in the countryside or work internationally, you don’t have to leave London to have a career in the great outdoors.

Canalside Activity Centre in west London and Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre in the east are just two of the options within the M25. Hillingdon Outdoor Activities Centre, near Ruislip, provides prerequisite training for instructors and offers trainee instructor schemes between April and October.