Find Your Way Forward

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Some people are professionals that love adventures, and others are adventure professionals. The two are distinguished by different intention. The rules and expectations that govern a person enjoying the outdoors on their own are often different than for employees in an industry. Understanding this difference is important, and may be a part of what helps you decide to make this industry your career.

Professionals join the adventure park and challenge course/zip line industry in lots of ways: through a job at a summer camp, work in construction, climbing, or looking for ways to engage students outside of the classroom. You might be an engineer, a hospitality specialist, an employee at a state park, or a college student looking for something fun to do with your summer.

BE A LEARNER

If you are looking to advance your career, there are a variety of ways to go about it. Ask any industry professional, “How did you get to where you are?” Rarely in this industry will two people give the same answer, even if they have the same job.

That said, many of us went through some sort of initial training or orientation to start working in the industry, and then we got hands-on experience.

So, now what? Start with the self-assessment José Gonzalez described in Part 1. Consider:

• What do you want to do?

• What is your skill set, interest, strengths?

• What do you want to learn?

• What parts of the industry do you enjoy?

• What sort of compensation or perks are you looking for in a career?

Your answers may help you decide your next steps. If you don’t have the answers, don’t fret—a desire to learn will allow you to take advantage of opportunities.

Be open-minded. I once had a college professor who said, “You never know where life and your career might end up. Therefore, you should diversify your knowledge and never consider an experience irrelevant, because there is always a useful takeaway that could be applied to the next opportunity.” With that in mind, the answer to “now what?” often includes being open-minded, especially to learning something new.

Learning opportunities—also known as “ongoing education”—can take many forms, and can be formal or informal. A formal type of learning can include attending a training, whereas an informal learning opportunity can include reading an article from an industry magazine. Both allow you to gain new information. The difference is that formalized training has more intention and (typically) the ability to review skills and demonstrate competency. Both can enhance your résumé, meet a specific job requirement, or help obtain and maintain certification(s).

When you begin to explore learning opportunities, first find out what resources the company you currently work for—or would like to work for—will provide, such as internal classes or access to external trainings. Remember, though, companies typically invest in those staff who are committed to the organization—they may be less willing to spend money on furthering your knowledge if you don’t plan to use the skills learned to help the business reach its goals.

BROADEN YOUR SCOPE

Be proactive. One way to start the conversation is to ask your boss what gaps exist at the company—what skills does he wish staff had, what tasks does she want accomplished? I once asked this when my primary job was working on the ropes course. As it turned out, there was a need at the waterfront, so I was offered a chance to become a lifeguard. That training gave me the ability to teach our part-time summer staff without having to outsource, and it provided me with valuable experience in delivering staff training.

First aid teacher certifications can be helpful for training or managerial roles.

Working as an American Red Cross Instructor also expanded my understanding of how certifications were managed from a certifying body. And it gave me the ability to teach CPR & First Aid for the Professional, which lots of organizations want.

Later in my career, a staff person asked me the same question. I said that we needed bus drivers to help transport guests, and to my surprise, she got her commercial drivers license (CDL). She was then eligible for more types of work, and her effort showed us how committed she was to the success of the company. In exchange, we prioritized her on the schedule. And she was able to find work she enjoyed after our program closed for the season.

Be multi-skilled. Having skills in another industry can be important if you want to pursue your passions. Colorado, for example, is full of top notch “veteran” seasonal professionals who work in more than one industry.

Throughout the adventure park and challenge course/zip line industry, staff with speciality skills tend to excel. Whether you have your Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification, CDL, or are a trained carpenter, a company will appreciate what you bring to the table. Even if something seems unrelated to the industry—such as plumbing skills or having a degree in English—you can find your niche. There are leaky sinks and antiquated documentation in most offices that could use your attention.

SEEK RESOURCES

Once you’ve decided what type of ongoing education you want to pursue, you will need to find the resources to gain that knowledge. When choosing what certification(s) to obtain, consider the environment in which, and how much, you will use the skills. For example, becoming a paramedic takes a lot of work, and may not be necessary for the job you want.

It is equally important to consider which organization to pursue certification or licensure with. In all cases, some of the considerations include: logistical feasibility to attend, prerequisites, course cost, length of certification (before expiration), and the organization’s reputation. I would recommend that you discuss your intentions with any training organization you consider: Are you looking to take a class simply to learn information, or do you want to become certified?

One key resource: Professional Vendor Members (PVMs) of the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) deliver a variety of different training and certification courses. ACCT maintains a calendar of events for many of these trainings. There are companies in the industry other than PVMs that offer trainings and certifications, but finding these classes can be a challenge.

NETWORKING

A great way to learn about available opportunities is to contact the vendors already working with your program. The outside companies that support the inspection, maintenance, and training at your course(s), as well as the original equipment and device manufacturers, may all offer ongoing educational opportunities and trainings, or they may have a recommendation.

Reach out to your local department of labor, or the like, to see what your options are. I recently began working for the State of Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment, in the Division of Oil and Public Safety. I am continuously learning more about trainings, professional development opportunities, and funding available to private companies and staff to help individuals further their careers.

Also, many qualified professionals in the industry volunteer their time to give ongoing education classes at conferences. If you have not yet joined any trade associations, consider doing so—not only to stay informed of industry changes and trends, but also to take advantage of various trainings and certifications they offer.

TRAINING, CERTIFICATION, EDUCATION

There are many directions you can go:

Midline rescue training, such as this session at Royal Gorge Adventures, Colo., teaches practical skills.

If you work with participants, you might want to attend a Level 1 or Level 2 Practitioner training, which can include certification testing. “ACCT Certification” is used as a shorthand in the industry and is actually delivered by a PVM of ACCT. These trainings have been vetted in a peer review process to teach you skills, and then potentially certify you, to work on challenge courses, zip lines, adventure parks, and the like.

If you work as a manager, or want to learn more about that role, consider a Challenge Course Manager (CCM) training course through a PVM. Many PVMs offer additional courses in facilitation—aka “soft skills”— as well as technical skills and course maintenance.

To move into management or work as a trainer, you might consider ongoing education related to adult education, personnel management/human resources, operating procedures, and industry standards. Many local colleges and universities offer business management classes, and auditing them as a non-credit course can be a way to gain the knowledge, and in some cases save money.

To work in the installation, inspection, and/or maintenance of courses, consider sitting in on ACCT conference sessions for inspectors; in-house or professional certification is also available. Also, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) classes focused on construction can be useful. While they may not be tailored specifically to this industry, the laws and principles are often transferable. You can also take classes on OSHA regulations. OSHA classes are offered in person and online, and vary in length. All U.S. companies that employ staff—yes, all companies—must abide by the applicable OSHA laws, so it’s good to know them.

Climbers/riggers might consider professional rope access certifications. Examples of trade organizations that offer classes include the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) and the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA).

OTHER AVENUES

Many people think that the industry is solely made up of designers/builders, inspectors, trainers, and operators. These jobs are critical in the industry, of course, but there are other opportunities, too.

Depending on your course’s construction, there are learning opportunities with arborists, wood pole inspectors, and welders. If you want to work with a designer, knowing some of the drafting software in the industry helps. Colleges are a great resource. If your program is regulated, talk to your AHJ (authority having jurisdiction); they can be a great resource, too.

Skills you might already have, or could pursue training in, include: communication (for public speaking and/or public relations), education, hospitality, marketing, photography, technical writing, government relations, and accounting/finance, to name a few.

On the formal education front, there are associate’s, bachelor’s, and even master’s degrees you can pursue in the outdoor, adventure, experiential education, recreation, and leisure industries. There are insurance companies and lawyers doing a lot of work in this field, and some may even be hiring. And for those of us that have found our dream jobs, ongoing education and training is important in mitigating complacency.

THE FUTURE IS WIDE OPEN

Regardless of what is next for you, consider yourself a student of life—it’s the one job title we all share. When opportunities present themselves, take advantage, because you may find you have unrealized skills and interests. Plus, you never know when that knowledge might come in handy.

Leslie Sohl is a technical specialist for the State of Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment, Division of Oil and Public Safety. She earned her Master’s Degree from Indiana University in Recreation Administration. She has been working in the industry for 15 years in a variety of capacities; her favorite part has always been her interactions with fellow humans.

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