How to Become a Recreation Worker
Recreation workers maintain order and safety.
Education and training requirements for recreation workers vary with the type of job, but workers typically need at least a high school diploma or the equivalent and receive on-the-job training.
Education and Training
Recreation workers typically need at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Many receive on-the-job training that typically lasts less than a month.
Entry-level educational requirements vary with the type of position. For example, an activity leader position working with the elderly will have different requirements than a position as a summer camp counselor working with children.
Some positions may require a bachelor’s degree or college coursework. In 2017, the Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism, and Related Professions, a branch of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), accredited more than 70 bachelor’s degree programs in recreation or leisure studies. A bachelor’s degree in other subjects, such as liberal arts or public administration, may also qualify applicants for some positions.
Communication skills. Recreation workers must be able to communicate well. They often work with large groups of people and need to give clear instructions, motivate participants, and maintain order and safety.
Flexibility. Recreation workers must be flexible when planning activities. They must be able to adapt plans to suit changing environmental conditions and participants’ needs.
Leadership skills. Recreation workers should be able to lead both large and small groups. They often lead activities for people of all ages and abilities.
Physical strength. Most recreation workers should be physically fit. Their job may require a considerable amount of movement because they often demonstrate activities while explaining them.
Problem-solving skills. Recreation workers need strong problem-solving skills. They must be able to create and reinvent activities and programs for all types of participants.
For recreation workers who generally work part time, such as camp counselors and activity specialists, certain qualities may be more important than education. These qualities include a worker’s experience leading activities, the ability to work well with children or the elderly, and the ability to ensure the safety of participants.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
The NRPA offers four certifications for recreation workers:
- Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (CPRP)
- Certified Parks and Recreation Executive (CPRE)
- Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO)
- Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI)
Applicants may qualify for certification with different combinations of education and work experience. They also must take continuing education classes to maintain their certification.
The American Camp Association offers certificates for various levels of camp staff, including Entry-Level Program Staff Certificate and Camp Director Certificate. Individuals who complete online courses may show their advanced level of knowledge of core competencies.
Some recreation jobs require other kinds of certification. For example, first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certifications may be required for leading camp or sports activities. These certifications are available from organizations such as the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross.
Jobs for recreation workers may also require a valid driver’s license and the ability to pass a background check.
Specific requirements vary by job and employer.
As workers gain experience, they may be promoted to positions with greater responsibilities. Recreation workers with experience and managerial skills may advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Eventually, they may become directors of a recreation department or may start their own recreation company.