Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Recreation & Fitness Workers

Educational requirements for recreation workers range from a high school diploma—or sometimes less for those seeking many summer jobs—to graduate degrees for some administrative positions in large public recreation systems. Full-time career professional positions usually require a college degree with a major in parks and recreation or leisure studies, but a bachelorís degree in any liberal arts field may be sufficient for some jobs in the private sector. In industrial recreation, or ďemployee servicesĒ as it is more commonly called, companies prefer to hire those with a bachelorís 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 certification. For example, a lifesaving certificate is a prerequisite for teaching or coaching water-related activities. Graduates of associateís degree programs in parks and recreation, social work, and other human services disciplines also enter some career recreation positions. High school graduates occasionally enter career positions, but this is not common. Some college students work part time as recreation workers while earning degrees.

A bachelorís degree in a recreation-related discipline and experience are preferred for most recreation supervisor jobs and are required for higher level administrative jobs. However, an increasing number of recreation workers who aspire to administrative positions are obtaining masterís degrees in parks and recreation, business administration, or public administration. Certification in the recreation field may be helpful for advancement. Also, many persons in other disciplines, including social work, forestry, and resource management, pursue graduate degrees in recreation.

Programs leading to an associateís or bachelorís degree in parks and recreation, leisure studies, or related fields are offered at several hundred colleges and universities. Many also offer masterís or doctoral degrees in the field. In 2004, about 100 bachelorís 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 practice of park and recreation management. Courses offered include community organization; supervision and administration; recreational needs of special populations, such as the elderly or disabled; and supervised fieldwork. Students may specialize in areas such as therapeutic recreation, park management, outdoor recreation, industrial or commercial recreation, or camp management.

The NRPA certifies individuals for professional and technical jobs. Certified Park and Recreation Professionals must pass an exam; earn a bachelorís degree with a major in recreation, park resources, or leisure services from a program accredited by the NRPA and the American Association for Leisure and Recreation; or earn a bachelorís degree and have at least 5 years of relevant full-time work experience. Continuing education is necessary to remain certified.

Persons planning recreation careers should be outgoing, good at motivating people, and sensitive to the needs of others. Excellent health and physical fitness are often required, due to the physical nature of some jobs. Volunteer experience, part-time work during school, or a summer job can lead to a full-time career as a recreation worker. As in many fields, managerial skills are needed to advance to supervisory or managerial positions.