Western Illinois University: Macomb Campus
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Recreation, Park & Tourism Administration
Careers in Recreation, Park & Tourism Administration
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There has never been a more exciting time to become involved in the field of recreation and leisure services. Today’s society is increasingly leisure-oriented. Americans spend a third of their time and income on leisure pursuits. One-third of our land is devoted to leisure, and more than two-thirds of Americans perceive their leisure to be of equal or greater importance to them than their work.
Professional careers in recreation and leisure services offer challenging, meaningful and highly rewarding opportunities. Whether you are interested in working with children, teens, adults or seniors; with outdoor adventure, cultural arts, sports or social activities; in hospital/clinical settings, theme parks or the military; recreation and leisure services offers job opportunities for you. Here are some of the careers pursued by RPTA majors, with brief descriptions and sources for additional information. Other information sources are listed on our Professional Resources page. You might also want to look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U. S. Department of Labor).
- Adventure/Risk Recreation
- Correctional Recreation
- Event Management
- Local Commercial Recreation
- Natural Resources Recreation Management
- Private Clubs & Fitness Centers
- Senior Centers
- Employee Services
- Travel and Tourism
- Community Recreation
- Entertainment & Sport Venue Management
- Facility Management
- Military Recreation
- Outdoor Recreation/Education
- Resort Recreation
- Student Unions/Campus Recreation
- Therapeutic Recreation
- Voluntary Agencies/Youth Organizations
Outdoor adventure education is a term used to describe recreational programs that contain elements of challenge, thrill, stress, risk, or adventure. Some of the activities commonly associated with such programs include mountaineering, spelunking, kayaking, wilderness camping, rock climbing and ropes courses. A growing number of public and private organizations including government and commercial agencies need trained, well-qualified outdoor leaders for their adventure programs. Previous outdoor leadership experience and technical training is mandatory because without well-qualified leaders such programs can become dangerous. Therefore, agencies look for persons with previous outdoor leadership experience and technical training. The minimum medical training for an outdoor leader is advanced first aid but often CPR training, emergency medical technician or CPR instructor training is required.
Adventure/Risk Recreation Resources & Organizations
COMMUNITY RECREATION/RECREATIONAL SPORTS
Community recreation is generally thought of as Municipal Park and recreation agencies, but it may also include county agencies, unincorporated communities, and other areas with a definable population. There is a growing emphasis on planned recreation rather than spontaneous individual recreation as people have moved from rural to more urban and suburban settings. Leisure has become an integral part of the American lifestyle with greater emphasis on family recreation as well as extreme sports. Participation in sports and sport leagues has become increasingly popular in public recreation agencies which has created a need for professionals trained in sport management. Professional positions vary widely and may include administration, recreation supervision, aquatics, horticulture, therapeutics, athletics, golf course management, skateboard/rollerblade park management, ice rink management, planning and developing, park management, interpretive and outdoor program management, zoological management, and cultural arts programming. Certification as a parks and recreation professional is becoming either mandatory or a preferred qualification to many positions in the field.
The major intent of correctional recreation is to provide leisure and recreation programs that will aid the offender’ adjustment to incarceration and lead to a more productive leisure lifestyle upon their return to society. The correctional system addresses this goal with a broad range of services within both the adult and juvenile branches. The range of correctional agencies employing recreation professionals extends from federal and state institutions to local and private treatment agencies. Within these agencies, the number of job opportunities is increasing, primarily due to the presently overcrowded system and the demand for new prisons. Examples of the type of work settings include penitentiaries, training schools, work farms, camps, and group homes.
Correctional Recreation Resources & Organizations
Employee services provide programs that add to the quality of life for employees. Some companies may offer organized recreation programs such as softball leagues and arts and crafts classes while others may focus on wellness, special events, and travel services in addition to dependent care, and voluntary benefits. These programs have been found to improve employer/employee relations, boost morale, and reduce absenteeism. Programs and facilities vary from company to company.
Employee Services Resources & Professional Associations
ENTERTAINMENT AND SPORT VENUES MANAGEMENT
Arena, auditoriums/theater, amphitheater, convention center, and professional sport stadium management is a growing field in the spectrum of recreation professional careers. Professional opportunities include administration, operations, marketing, and box office. Typical positions in entertainment venues include guest services, event operations, event coordinators, community relations, box office operations, sales, client services, suite managers, facilities management, marketing, communications, and operations management. Typical positions in sport teams/venues may include event sponsorship, promotions, camps and clinics, advertising, marketing, and sales.
Entertainment & Sports Venues Management Resources & Professional Associations
Event management is a relatively new term in the recreation field that encompasses many different job titles in several related industries. A career in event management may include settings such as corporations, fairs and festivals, arenas, museums, zoos, attractions, cultural centers, special event companies, convention and visitor bureaus, non-profit associations and theme parks. Events may include anything from a small meeting to huge parties and conventions; from programs at a park to world fairs and community festivals; from cultural and sport events to business and political events. Important skills in event management include effective communication, critical thinking, problem solving, goal setting, integrity, experience, and a positive attitude. There are several professional certifications available to individuals in the event management industry. Some of these include Certified Meeting Planner (CMP), Certified Special Events Professional (CLEP), Certified Festival Executive (CFE), and Certified Exposition Manager (CEM).
Event Management Resources & Professional Associations
Facilities managers work with both indoor and outdoor facilities. These may include gymnasiums, bowling alleys, community centers, museums, art galleries, auditoriums, theaters, dance pavilions, arenas, tennis courts, athletic fields, picnic areas, family campgrounds, ice skating rinks, swimming pools, public and resort beaches, archery ranges, shooting ranges, ski slopes, golf courses, zoos, and marinas among others. Facilities management is generally divided into two categories: the public sector and the private or commercial sector. Public recreation may be city and county levels, or special district. Private or commercial recreation facilities operate for a profit and are usually a closed membership association or club. Students preparing for a career in this field should have a working knowledge of maintenance associated with facilities, a knowledge of preparing, presenting, and administering an effective budget, the ability to determine personnel needs, recruiting, hiring, assigning, and directing the work of staff members including preparing job descriptions, and the ability to conceptualize and put into action a varied range of recreation programs and activities to meet the needs and interests of those who will participate. Some background in marketing and accounting is also helpful. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for facility managers and some positions may require advanced degrees.
Facility Management Resources & Professional Associations
LOCAL COMMERCIAL RECREATION
Commercial recreation includes any for profit business designed to provide leisure-related services and products to the public. Many are independently operated establishments. A partial list of businesses that meet this definition would include amusement and theme parks, bowling alleys, theaters, ice and roller skating arenas, campgrounds, ski facilities, marinas, museums, aquariums, zoos, play centers, aquatic centers, health/athletic clubs, and equipment retailers. Personal skills and attributes needed in commercial recreation include effective communication with guests, staff, and investors, self-motivation, self-confidence, flexibility, creativity, patience, leadership and organization.
Local Commercial Recreation Resources & Professional Associations
Military recreation is big business, amounting to $700 million a year with more than 40,000 full time and part time employees. It provides for U.S. armed forces a range of programs similar to those found in community leisure service settings. These services and programs are generally part of the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) and are designed to promote mental readiness and physical fitness among service personnel. The armed forces want to attract civilian recreation professionals into the field of military recreation. One of the attractions a military recreation specialist enjoys is the diversity of work settings. The work environment on a base closely resembles that found in a community recreation setting. Therefore, job skills developed in military recreation may be readily transferable to community recreation programs. Like community recreation programs, most military areas offer a mix of athletic fields, courts and gyms, bowling alleys, fitness centers, clubs, theaters, pools, hobby areas and community centers.
Military Recreation Resources & Professional Associations
NATURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT
Meeting our nation’s increased demands for opportunities to relax and enjoy outdoor recreational experiences requires maintaining, preserving, and managing parks, forests, and other open space environments. Outdoor recreation agencies at the national, state, and local levels all offer career opportunities for individuals wishing to work in outdoor settings, managing parks, forests, conservation districts, wildlife refuges, and other outdoor areas set aside for recreational use. Positions in natural resources management vary widely among agencies and states but typically include the following: Recreation Forester, Park Planner, Park Ranger I, II, or III, Naturalist, Ranger Police, Superintendent of Parks, Resource Manager, Turf Specialist, Park Specialist, Conservation Police Officer and Site Superintendent.
Natural Resource Management Resources & Professional Associations
For additional information about National Forest System’s recreation programs, write to the Personnel Officer at any regional office near you or in an area in which you may be interested.
Careers in outdoor education/recreation are all based on the combination of learning/teaching and engaging in enjoyable activities in the outdoors. There are many terms used to describe careers in outdoor education/recreation, but the four most common elements include Outdoor Education, Outdoor Recreation, Organized Camping, and Environmental Interpretation. Outdoor Education is commonly defined as “education in, about, and for the out-of-doors.” Outdoor Recreation, on the other hand, covers a broad spectrum of leisure experiences that relate to using, understanding, and/or appreciating natural resources. These may include hiking, swimming, boating, cycling, walking, bird watching, or camping. Organized Camping differs in that it consists of education and recreation activities led by trained leaders in an outdoor setting with emphasis on individual development and group living. Camps can be residential or day camps, operated by private individuals, youth agencies, churches, or government agencies. The term Environmental Interpretation is usually associated with visitor centers in state and national parks. The Interpreter helps visitors learn about and understand the environment as well as develop an enthusiasm for learning about nature. Because there is such a wide variety of positions related to outdoor education/recreation, it is hard to find a single set of specific qualifications for all careers. Examples of outdoor positions would include Camp Director, Tour Guide, Nature Leader, Museum Director, Park Ranger, Resort Owner/Operator, Interpretive Naturalist, Nature Center Programmer, Ski Lodge Operator, and River Trip Guide.
Outdoor Recreation/Education Resources & Professional Associations
PRIVATE CLUBS & FITNESS CENTERS
Private clubs offer a variety of employment opportunities for students. The most common types of private clubs are country clubs, golf clubs, fitness/health clubs, tennis/racquet clubs, ski clubs, hunting/fishing clubs, and yacht clubs. Depending on the focus of the club, a recreation professional can become employed in any one or a combination of the following areas: recreation activities, aquatics, special/social events, member services, tennis, equestrian, sports, youth/teen, tours/excursions, fitness/health, retail, child care, golf, and entertainment. Typical roles or positions a recreation professional can play in a private club setting include recreation leader, marketing, public relations, retail, tour coordinator, instructor/trainer, coach, sales, member services, facility management, special events, and owner. The recreation professional that chooses to work in the private club industry may become a Certified Club Manager (CCM). This certification is made available through the Club Managers Association of America.
Private Clubs & Fitness Centers Resources & Professional Associations
Resort hotels are characterized by the number of services and amenities available on the resort site. These can include food and beverage, retail, conference facilities, and a wise selection of recreation and entertainment opportunities. Naturally, recreation professionals are needed to oversee the recreation amenities found at resorts. Resort recreation, like other types of commercial recreation agencies, has the “bottom line” goal of making a profit. And while this profit can be achieved through food and lodging, what often attracts guests and makes a resort unique is the recreation department. Resorts offer a variety of employment opportunities for students that can include aquatics, special events, guest services, conference services, tennis, equestrian, sports, youth/teen, tour/excursion, fitness, retail, health/spa, child care, golf and entertainment. The most common training for an individual entering the field of resort recreation is an education in commercial recreation/tourism and because resorts are for-profit hospitality agencies, coursework in business and hospitality is also helpful. The resort professional may choose to become a Certified Commercial Recreation Professional (CCRP). This certification is available through the Resort and Commercial Recreation Association (RCRA).
Resort Recreation Resources & Professional Associations
A senior center is a community facility where older persons, as individuals or in groups, come together for services and activities that enhance their dignity, support their independence, and encourage their involvement within the community. Senior center programs consist of a variety of services and activities including health and wellness programs, meals and nutrition programs, recreational opportunities, transportation services, arts programs, volunteer opportunities, inter-generational programs, special events, employee assistance, and education opportunities. Employment opportunities in senior centers are good today due to the commitment of the federal, state and local governments to provide services for the elderly. A degree in Community Recreation, Therapeutic Recreation, Sociology, or Gerontology is preferred. Other related areas of employment include adult day care centers, long-term care including nursing homes and medical care facilities, homes for the aged, and retirement centers including apartment and communal living.
Senior Centers Resources & Professional Associations
STUDENT UNIONS/CAMPUS RECREATION
College Student Unions and Campus Recreation Facilities offer out-of-classroom experiences for the majority of college students. A vast range of programs, activities, and services are found in these leisure service centers. College Student Unions often include such facilities as arts/crafts centers, auditoriums, meeting rooms, galleries, theaters, billiards and bowling as well as student activity centers. The duties of the professional staff in College Unions may include advising various student organizations, being a resource person, or serving as an instructor for programs. Management of these centers requires managerial and technical skills for operating indoor/outdoor recreation programs, building operations, personnel-labor relations, marketing, advertising, accounting, and budgeting. Campus Recreation Centers differ from Student Unions in that they provide sports and fitness activities for the students, faculty and staff of the school. A good recreational sports program may offer such diverse activities as team sports (flag football, basketball, softball, etc.), individual and dual sports (racquetball, tennis, golf, etc.), sports clubs (rugby, Frisbee, chess, etc.), free-time leisure pursuits, and a variety of fitness activities, outdoor pursuits, special events, and activities for individuals with disabilities. The tremendous growth of intramural sports programs over the past 40 years has resulted in the formation of a professional organization known as the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). Employers are interested in recreation, parks and leisure studies graduates with strong backgrounds in programming, administration, finance, and facility management. Extracurricular activities and involvements during college can provide the type of experience that many employers look for when hiring for these positions.
Student Unions/Campus Recreation Resources & Professional Associations
Therapeutic Recreation has emerged as the primary occupation dedicated to providing recreation services to persons with illnesses, disabling conditions, or other special needs. Therapeutic Recreation professionals are trained and certified to offer recreational therapy services to a broad range of persons with illnesses or conditions. These special needs may include emotional and physical impairments, geriatrics, developmentally disabled, chemically dependent and cognitively impaired. Therapeutic recreators work with a broad range of individuals with special needs in diverse settings such as psychiatric hospitals, mental health institutions, rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, camps for special populations, group homes, and community-based programs. The baccalaureate degree is the entry-level requirement for entrance into the field and professional certification is also required. U.S. Labor Department projections indicate the rate of growth of therapeutic recreation as a profession will increase faster than the average of all occupations. The field of therapeutic recreation is served by two national membership organizations, the National Therapeutic Recreation Society (NTRS) and the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA).
Therapeutic Recreation Resources & Professional Associations
TRAVEL AND TOURISM
The travel and tourism industry generates a spectrum of employment opportunities. Among these are jobs in travel agencies, resorts, the airline industry, amusement/theme parks, tour companies, travel information services, time-share management services, campgrounds, hotel/motel management, and public/private promotion organizations. The growth of travel and tourism greatly impacts local economies, and as this trend continues to grow, more colleges are offering curriculum tracks in the travel/tourism area. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most entry-level positions. Presently, positions can be found in state and local travel bureaus, convention centers, convention and visitor bureaus, chamber of commerce offices, and similar agencies.
Travel & Tourism Resources & Professional Associations
VOLUNTARY AGENCIES/YOUTH ORGANIZATIONS
Voluntary and youth serving agencies provide many innovative and special activities for young people. They are generally non-tax supported and provide programs that serve the public. The eight largest such agencies include Boys and Girls Club of America, Boy Scouts of America, Campfire Girls Incorporated, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association and the 4-H Program. Working for the YMCA, Girl Scouts, or other national agencies, requires a type of commitment or calling. These organizations depend upon strong voluntary backing from the community. Therefore, professionals need to be especially skilled in working with and training volunteers for such tours of service. The nature of the work may be a mixture of recreation, education, social work and camping. Boy Scout and Girl Scouts are examples of programs that have diversified settings such as homes, camps, and communities. The financing depends largely on the community United Funds and other gifts. Therefore, professionals will also be involved in the fund-raising process and campaigns. Organized camps play a major part in work for the YMCA or related agencies. One important aspect is training volunteers who will provide face-to-face leadership for the participants. High moral standards typify activities within youth-serving agencies, and high moral standards are demanded of full-time leaders within these movements. Youth agencies are very interested in applicants who have had earlier involvement with the same group.
Voluntary Agencies/Youth Organizations Resources & Professional Associations
Material here has been adapted from Careers in Recreation by Roger L. Coles and published by the American Association for Leisure and Recreation, an Association of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.