Are you interested in pursuing a career in the outdoors, but aren’t quite sure where to start – or do you know someone else who dreams of working outdoors? Whether you’re hoping to forge your own path or are working with young people who are hoping to establish a career in the outdoors, keep reading for tips on how to hone in on a career path and explore opportunities in outdoor recreation and conservation.
WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?
Outdoor recreation accounts for a staggering $646 billion in annual consumer spending, which helps sustain 6.1 million jobs across the outdoor industries. Almost half of this workforce is at least 50 years or older – and only 7% is under 30 years old. At first glance, that age gap may appear problematic, but it actually presents a fantastic opportunity to shift the tide and usher in a new generation of professionals.
The outdoor recreation and conservation industries cover a lot of ground, which can feel overwhelming – however, this also means that there is a lot of variety within the field, which means more choices when it comes to job hunting. Before you begin scrolling through internship listings and job openings, take some time to think about what motivates you to seek opportunities in these areas, and what type of work you’d like to pursue. Do you want to spend most of your time outside, or do you enjoy working at a computer or in a laboratory setting? Do you want to interact with the public, or do you prefer to stay behind the scenes? Are you interested in resource management, education, retail, science – or something else entirely? Outdoor recreation and conservation careers span the gamut from some of the more obvious choices like environmental education and wildlife biology to some things you might not have considered, like cartography, public relations, and environmental law. For a bit of inspiration and guidance, check out our Introduction and Overview to Outdoor Recreation and Conservation Careers.
WHERE ARE THE JOBS?
It’s also important to consider the different sectors where outdoor recreation and conservation jobs exist. Federal and regional government agencies provide perhaps the largest assortment of opportunities in these fields. You’ll find parks and recreation jobs beginning at the municipal level; as you explore county and state governments, opportunities will expand to include options like wildland firefighting, environmental science and health work, and wildlife, land, and resource management. Here’s a guide to help you begin exploring opportunities on the regional level, which includes a list of state-specific resources.
The federal government offers the same career paths listed above, but on a much larger scale, with jobs located primarily within the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Commerce. It’s true that the route to securing a job with the federal government is more complex than pursuing work with a state or local government entity, but there exist several pathways to employment that help ease the process. We’ll explore these in just a minute, but you can also visit our guide Federal Government Agencies: Outdoor Career Opportunities for an in-depth explanation.
If government work doesn’t sound appealing, you may want to consider looking for employment in the nonprofit or education sectors, which can include outdoor recreation, environmental education, outdoor youth development, therapeutic programs, and conservation programs. Conversely, you might be interested in working in the for-profit sector, which covers a broad spectrum including retail, marketing, manufacturing, guide services, and natural resources.
HOW DO I GET MY FOOT IN THE DOOR?
Whether you’re just starting out or are making a career switch, it can be daunting to figure out just how to enter a new industry. For those with the time and flexibility to do so, volunteering is one way to not only explore whether you’d like to work with a particular organization or in a particular sector of the outdoor recreation and conservation industries, but also to begin building experience and networking connections. Another gateway is participating in an internship or fellowship in your intended field. College or university career offices often keep a list of these kinds of opportunities, and the federal government offers several specific programs intended to carve a pathway for young outdoor career seekers, including the Youth Conservation Corps, Department of Energy Student Programs, AmeriCorps VISTA, and its Pathways Programs. Finally, there are always seasonal jobs available in the government sector, which can act as stepping stones toward future permanent employment – two great resources are Backdoor Jobs and CoolWorks.
HOW DO I FIND EMPLOYMENT?
Whether you’re considering government, non-profit, education, or for-profit work, there are plenty of resources to guide your job-seeking efforts – here are a few to get you started:
- Search for job or career portals on municipal and state websites (i.e. Colorado.gov/jobs)
- Visit the official federal job site, USAJobs.gov
- Federal Jobs Digest
Non-profit and education jobs
- Search for job or career portals within specific organizations’ or entities’ websites
- Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education
- Conservation Job Board
- Create a profile on LinkedIn and scroll through its job listings
- Scour commercial job portals like Indeed and Monster
- Visit outdoor industry-specific websites like Malakye, Outdoor Industry Jobs, Outdoor Industry Association, and Camber Outdoors
For further exploration and an abundance of resources on the topic, check out our Outdoor Recreation and Conservation Careers Toolkit and webinar.