Inherent & Actual Risk
Certification & Degree Programs
What is unreasonable is to assume that because a student takes a course and receives certification, or a passing grade, for successfully completing that course, they have mastered the material. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this is a false assumption. It takes practice and mentoring to master most skills; this is especially true for the majority of outdoor skills. In addition, both skill mastery and retention require constant practice and on-going training.
Employers, regardless of the industry or job, typically rely on a resume and Vita that includes recommendations, certifications, degrees, and experience to initially screen applicants. In this, the outdoor industry is no different; however, problems can arise when an employer relies solely on the paperwork and does not directly assess the applicant's skills in the field. This is especially true for applicants with undergraduate and graduate degrees that do not include documented field time and training logs.
The Pros & Cons of Certifications
- Provides a set of standards the student is trained to and assessed on. The most effective certification programs—those that instill mastery—are those that separate training and evaluation into separate courses and levels, and require on-going training to maintain the certification.
- Unless the standards set are high and the assessment consistent, the certification is of limited value as a hiring and screening tool. Consistency in training and assessment is a current problem for many outdoor certifications.
- Certifications that do not provide accurate feedback or lead to mastery may give a graduate an inaccurate assessment of their skills that may, in turn, lead to a critical judgment error.
- Cost and time. Unless the employer picks up the tab for maintaining required certifications, the cost can be prohibitive.
The Pros & Cons of Undergraduate & Graduate Degree Programs
- A college or university setting is typically well-suited to training many of the human and basic educational skills—technical writing, counseling, psychology, educational philosophy, etc.—and the administrative skills associated with program management—budgeting, permitting, marketing, retail, statistics, etc. Some topics, like natural history, weather prediction, geology, etc., require field time to make the information practical.
- Well-designed undergraduate co-curricular programs that include at least one field semester and blend academic learning with basic outdoor skill acquisition and mentored trip leading experience can produce entry level trip leaders upon graduation. Well-designed graduate co-curricular programs can produce effective field supervisors and administrators if they have strict prerequisites surrounding the required instructor skill sets.
- There are no national graduation requirements for outdoor skills and no national outdoor skill prerequisites for entering graduate programs. As a result many students who graduate with an undergraduate degree in outdoor education, recreation, or therapy are not prepared to be trip leaders. As a result—and somewhat ironically—many professors do not have the practical outdoor skills or field experience required to train outdoor leaders. An employer seeking to hire someone as a trip leader or administrator has no bench-mark for screening. In an effort to off-set a lack of standards and prerequisites, many colleges and university degree programs require students to obtain certifications (see above for the pros and cons of certifications).
- Outdoor skills do not lend themselves to a campus-based format and many professors are not interested in spending months in the field, preferring instead to have a sustainable family and social life.
- Unless the program has high standards for outdoor skills training and documented assessment, the degree is of limited value as a hiring and screening tool.
- Degrees that do not provide accurate feedback or lead to mastery may give a graduate an inaccurate assessment of their skills that may, in turn, lead to a critical judgment error.
- Cost and time. The outdoor field is notorious for it's poor trip leader salaries. It is extremely difficult for a graduate of a state college or university to pay back their loans on a trip leader's salary and impossible for a graduate who attended a private college or university.
Part 3 of the series discusses the current pathways to becoming an effective outdoor leader and administrator? Your comments are encouraged.