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Many people spend some of their leisure time participating in organized recreation ranging from aerobics or crafts to hiking or softball. Recreation programs, as diverse as the people they serve, are offered at local playgrounds and recreation areas, parks, community centers, health clubs, churches and synagogues, camps, and theme parks and tourist attractions. Recreation workers plan, organize, and direct these activities.
Recreation workers organize and lead programs and watch over recreational facilities and equipment. They help people to pursue their interest in crafts, art, or sports. They enable people to share common interests in physical or mental activities for their mutual entertainment, physical fitness, and self-improvement. Recreation workers organize teams and leagues and also teach the correct use of equipment and facilities.
In the workplace, recreation workers oganize and direct leisure activities and athletic programs for all ages, such as bowling and softball leagues, social functions, travel programs, discount services, and, to an increasing extent, exercise and fitness programs. These activities are generally for adults.
Camp counselors lead and instruct children and teenagers in outdoor-oriented forms of recreation, such as swimming, hiking, and horseback riding as well as camping. Activities often are intended to enhance campers' appreciation of nature and responsible use of the environment. In addition, counselors provide campers with specialized instruction in activities such as archery, boating, music, drama, gymnastics, tennis, or computers. In resident camps, counselors also provide guidance and supervise daily living and general socialization.
Recreation workers occupy a variety of positions at different levels of responsibility. Recreation leaders are responsible for a recreation program's daily operation and organize and direct participants. They may lead and give instruction in dance, drama, crafts, games, and sports; schedule use of facilities and keep records of equipment use; and monitor the use of recreation facilities and equipment to make sure they are used properly. Workers who provide instruction in specialties such as art, music, drama, swimming, or tennis may be called activity specialists. They often conduct classes and coach teams in the activity in which they specialize.
Recreation supervisors plan programs to meet the needs of the population they serve and supervise recreation leaders and activity specialists, sometimes over a large region. They may also direct specialized activities and special events. A growing number of supervisors use computers in their work.
In a related occupation, recreational therapists help individuals recover or adjust to illness, disability, or specific social problems; this occupation is described elsewhere in the Handbook.
Recreation workers must work while others engage in leisure time activities. While most recreation workers put in about 40 hours a week, people entering this field-especially camp counselors-should expect some night and weekend work and irregular hours. About 3 out of 10 worked part time and many jobs are seasonal. The work setting for recreation workers may be anywhere from a cruise ship to a woodland recreational park. Recreation workers often spend much of their time outdoors and may work under a variety of weather conditions. Recreation supervisors may spend most of their time in an office. Since full-time recreation workers spend more time acting as managers than hands-on activities leaders, they engage in less physical activity. However, as is the case for anyone engaged in physical activity, recreation workers risk injuries, and the work can be physically tiring.
Recreation workers held about 222,000 jobs in 1994, and many additional workers held summer jobs in this occupation. Of those who held full-time jobs as recreation workers, about half worked in park and recreation departments of municipal and county governments. About 17 percent worked in membership organizations with a civic, social, fraternal, or religious orientation-the Boy Scouts, the YWCA, and Red Cross, for example. Another 11 percent were in programs run by social service organizations-senior centers and adult daycare programs, or residential care facilities such as halfway houses, group homes, and institutions for delinquent youth. An additional 10 percent worked for nursing and other personal care facilities.
Other employers included commercial recreation establishments, amusement parks, sports and entertainment centers, wilderness and survival enterprises, tourist attractions, vacation excursion companies, hotels and resorts, summer camps, health and athletic clubs, and apartment complexes.
The recreation field has an unusually large number of part-time, seasonal, and volunteer jobs. These jobs include summer camp counselors, lifeguards, craft specialists, and after-school and weekend recreation program leaders. Teachers and college students take many jobs as recreation workers when school is not in session.
Many unpaid volunteers assist paid recreation workers. The vast majority of volunteers serve as activity leaders at local day-camp programs, or in youth organizations, camps, nursing homes, hospitals, senior centers, YMCA's, and other settings. Some volunteers serve on local park and recreation boards and commissions. Volunteer experience, part-time work during school, or a summer job can lead to a full-time job.
Education needed for recreation worker jobs ranges from a high school diploma, or sometimes less, for many summer jobs to graduate education for some administrative positions in large public systems. Full-time career professional positions usually require a college degree with a major in parks and recreation or leisure studies, but a bachelor's degree in any liberal arts field may be sufficient for some jobs in the private sector. In industrial recreation, or "employee services" as it is more commonly called, companies prefer to hire those with a bachelor's degree in recreation or leisure studies and a background in business administration.
Specialized training or experience in a particular field, such as art, music, drama, or athletics, is an asset for many jobs. Some jobs also require a certification. For example, when teaching or coaching water-related activities, a lifesaving certificate is a prerequisite. Graduates of associate degree programs in parks and recreation, social work, and other human services disciplines also enter some career recreation positions. Occasionally high school graduates are able to enter career positions, but this is not common. Some college students work part time as recreation workers while earning degrees.
A bachelor's degree and experience are preferred for most recreation supervisor jobs and required for most higher level administrator jobs. However, increasing numbers of recreation workers who aspire to administrator positions are obtaining master's degrees in parks and recreation or related disciplines. Also, many persons in other disciplines, including social work, forestry, and resource management, pursue graduate degrees in recreation.
Programs leading to an associate or bachelor's degree in parks and recreation, leisure studies, or related fields are offered at several hundred colleges and universities. Many also offer master's or doctoral degrees in this field.
In 1995, approximately 90 bachelor's degree programs in parks and recreation were accredited by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Accredited programs provide broad exposure to the history, theory, and philosophy of park and recreation management. Courses offered include community organization, supervision and administration, recreational needs of special populations, such as older adults or the disabled, and supervised fieldwork. Students may specialize in areas such as therapeutic recreation, park management, outdoor recreation, industrial or commercial recreation, and camp management.
The American Camping Association has developed a curriculum for camp director education. Many national youth associations offer training courses for camp directors at the local and regional levels.
Persons planning recreation careers should be outgoing, good at motivating people, and sensitive to the needs of others. Good health and physical fitness are required. Activity planning calls for creativity and resourcefulness. Willingness to accept responsibility and the ability to exercise good judgment are important qualities since recreation personnel often work without close supervision. Part-time or summer recreation work experience while in high school or college may help students decide whether their interests really point to a human services career. Such experience also may increase their leadership skills and understanding of people.
Individuals contemplating careers in recreation at the supervisory or administrative level should develop managerial skills. College courses in management, business administration, accounting, and personnel management are likely to be useful.
Certification for this field is offered by the NRPA National Certification Board and the American Camping Association. The National Recreation and Parks Association, along with its State chapters, offers certification as a Certified Leisure Professional (CLP) for those with a college degree in recreation, and as a Certified Leisure Associate (CLA) for those with less than 4 years of college, for example. The American Camping Association offers a certification program for camp directors. Continuing education is necessary to remain certified in either field.
Certification is not usually required for employment or advancement in this field, but it is an asset. Employers choosing among qualified job applicants may opt to hire the person with a demonstrated record of professional achievement represented by certification.
Applicants for full-time career positions in recreation will face keen competition. All college graduates can enter recreation jobs, regardless of major, as well as some high school and junior college graduates, so the number of full-time career jobseekers often greatly exceed the number of job openings. Opportunities for staff positions should be best for persons with job experience gained in part-time or seasonal recreation jobs, together with formal recreation training. Those with graduate degrees should have the best opportunities for supervisory or dministrative positions.
Prospects are better for the large number of temporary seasonal jobs. These positions, typically filled by high school or college students, do not generally have formal education requirements and are open to anyone with the desired personal qualities. Employers compete for a share of the vacationing student labor force, and, while salaries in recreation are often lower than those in other fields, the nature of the work and the opportunity to work outdoors is attractive to many. Seasonal employment prospects should be good for applicants with specialized training and certification in an activity like swimming. These workers may obtain jobs as program directors.
Employment of recreation workers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005 as growing numbers of people possess both the time and the money to purchase leisure services. Growth in these jobs will also stem from increased interest in fitness and health and the rising demand for recreational opportunities for older adults in senior centers and retirement communities. However, overall job growth in local government-where half of all recreation workers are employed-is expected to be slow due to budget constraints, and local park and recreation departments are expected to do less hiring for permanent, full-time positions than in the past. As a result, this sector's share of recreation worker employment will continue to shrink. Nonetheless, opportunities will vary widely by region, since resources as well as priorities for public services differ from one community to another. Thus, hiring prospects for recreation workers will be much better in some park and recreation departments than overall projections would suggest, but worse in others.
Recreation worker jobs should also increase in social services-more recreation workers will be needed to develop and lead activity programs in senior centers, halfway houses, children's homes, and daycare programs for the mentally retarded or developmentally disabled. Similarly, the increasing elderly population will spur job growth in nursing homes and other personal care facilities.
Recreation worker jobs in employee services and recreation will continue to increase as more businesses recognize the benefits to their employees of recreation programs and other services such as wellness programs and elder care. Job growth will also occur in the commercial recreation industry, composed of amusement parks, athletic clubs, camps, sports clinics, and swimming pools.
Median annual earnings of recreation workers who worked full time in 1994 were about $15,500. The middle 50 percent earned between about $10,600 and $24,800, while the top 10 percent earned $38,900 or more. However, earnings of recreation directors and others in supervisory or managerial positions can be substantially higher.
Most public and private recreation agencies provide full-time recreation workers with vacation and other benefits, such as paid vacation, sick leave, and health insurance. Part-time workers receive few, if any, benefits.
Recreation workers must exhibit leadership and sensitivity in dealing with people. Other occupations that require similar personal qualities include recreational therapists, social workers, parole officers, human relations counselors, school counselors, clinical and counseling psychologists, and teachers.
For information on jobs in recreation, contact employers such as local government departments of parks and recreation, nursing and personal care facilities, and YMCA's.
Ordering information for materials describing careers and academic programs in recreation is available from:
National Recreation and Park Association, Division of Professional Services, 2775 South Quincy St., Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22206.
For information on careers in employee services and recreation, contact:
National Employee Services and Recreation Association, 2211 York Rd., Suite 207, Oakbrook, IL 60521.
For information on careers in camping and summer counselor opportunities, contact:
American Camping Association, 5000 State Rd. 67 North, Martinsville, IN 46151.
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