Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Median—$19,320 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Recreation workers help people to enjoy their leisure time. Arts and crafts, music, dance, dramatics, camping, sports, and games are all forms of recreation. Organized recreation provides people with opportunities to relax, exercise, and socialize. Recreation workers encourage physical fitness and promote self-expression and creativity in their clients. They may work for nursing homes, day care centers, the armed services, schools, local government recreation departments, national parks, nonprofit youth organizations, hospitals, cruise ships, and even penal institutions. Industries also hire recreation workers to organize social and recreational events for their employees.
Recreation leaders typically work with groups, teaching people leisure activities such as dancing and swimming. Sometimes they must handle minor emergencies; those who teach active sports may need to deal with accidents during games and practices. Recreation workers are supervised by recreation directors, who serve as the link between the people who use recreational facilities and the source of funds for the recreation program. For instance, directors of city recreation departments report to the city government. They may attend city planning meetings to report on how the city's recreational budget is being spent. Recreation directors must also make requests for new equipment, services, or facilities as they are needed.
Camp counselors supervise campers and teach them skills and activities such as waterskiing, canoeing, woodworking, and music. They may work in day camps or in overnight camps; with children or adults; at general camps; or at camps that emphasize one sport or art such as tennis, dancing, or drama.
Recreation workers who teach a single activity are called activity specialists. A swim specialist may teach swimming, organize swimming teams, and plan meets with other teams. Specialists not only teach skills but also encourage their team members to work together and enjoy themselves.
Education and Training Requirements
Education requirements for recreational workers vary with the type of position they hold. Camp counselors, for example, are often still in high school when they apply for summer jobs. Other jobs require only a high school diploma. Still others may require an associate's, bachelor's, or even master's degree. Two-year colleges offer an associate's degree in recreation work. Some four-year colleges offer degrees in recreation, social science, or physical education. Specialized training in athletics or the arts is required for certain recreational leader positions.
Recreation directors generally have graduate credits or four to five years of experience. Individuals interested in becoming directors should take college courses in public administration.
For camp counselors, experience in camping and outdoor activities is important. Many camps prefer to hire counselors with some college training. For jobs at specialized camps, expertise in a particular sport or art may be required. An American Red Cross certificate in lifesaving or first aid is often necessary as well.
An activity specialist should have graduate credits or at least three to four years of experience. Recreation workers who hope to be hired by industry should take business administration courses. Those interested in hospital work need courses in psychology, health education, and sociology. The greatest talent a recreation worker can offer, however, is the ability to get along with people of all ages, backgrounds, and temperaments.
Getting the Job
Prospective recreation workers should apply for the programs that interest them most. School placement offices may be able to help students find a position. While they are still in high school, many recreation workers begin working in their chosen field on a part-time or volunteer basis. Such jobs frequently turn into full-time or paid positions after graduation. In addition, job openings are frequently listed in newspaper want ads, on Internet job banks, and in professional journals and recreation magazines.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
After several years of experience a recreation leader can become a recreation director. A few college graduates enter trainee programs that allow them to become directors within a year or so. Further education also allows recreation leaders to move into higher-paying administrative positions.
The employment outlook for recreation workers is expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. Improved state park facilities, longer life spans, and early retirement are all creating a demand for expanded recreational facilities. In addition, people are paying more and more attention to the importance of physical fitness. Local recreation departments employ about half of all recreation workers; however, some local governments are having trouble funding these programs, and the best job opportunities may come from private agencies in the future.
The recreation field will always have a large number of part-time, seasonal, and volunteer jobs. Competition for full-time career positions is keen because many people are drawn to the field of recreational work. Candidates with the most experience and formal training will have the best job opportunities.
Recreation leaders work with minimal supervision and have a great deal of freedom to try out new ideas. They may work indoors or outdoors and frequently specialize in their own areas of interest. Personal satisfaction is high among these workers because they have fun teaching and leading activities they enjoy. Not all jobs in recreation require great physical stamina; many elderly people are recreation workers. Recreation directors work in an office setting.
Earnings and Benefits
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, recreation workers who are employed full time earned a median income of $19,320 per year in 2004. Recreation directors and administrators in supervisory or managerial positions can earn considerably more, depending on the level of responsibility and the size of the director's staff.
Where to Go for More Information
American Camp Association
5000 State Rd. 67 N
Martinsville, IN 46151-7902
National Park Service
1849 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20240
National Recreation and Park Association
22377 Belmont Ridge Rd.
Ashburn, VA 20148
Benefits vary according to location, experience, and employer. Full-time recreation workers who work for cities can expect the same benefits that other municipal employees receive. These benefits usually include paid vacations and health insurance.