How to Become a Recreation Worker

How to Become a Recreation WorkerThe jobs associated with a Recreation Worker encompasses camp counselors, camp directors, activity specialists, recreation leaders, recreation supervisors, and directors of recreation and parks. The recreation worker is as likely to be found in campgrounds and parks as they are in senior centers. Wherever they go, a directive to entertain and enlighten follows, making them one of the best sources of instruction through fun present today.

Bachelor's Degree
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

The educational requirements for becoming a recreation worker are split along a simple dichotomy, the number of hours that individual works weekly. Part-time recreation workers are the individuals pictured when imagining the stereotype of this field. These individuals require only a high school diploma or GED and the demonstrated ability to teach and lead. Experience in sports, arts and crafts, music, or some other cultural or activity-based field is a great help when attempting to secure seasonal work.

Full-time recreation workers are held to a much higher educational standard and are required to have a 4-year college degree in leisure studies, parks and recreation, or some other such topic to qualify. Those seeking management and administrative work in the field are expected to have at least a master’s degree.

Types of Recreation Workers

The six types of recreation workers are divided up in a hierarchy that strongly suggests bureaucratic leanings. Note that organizations typically do not use all six types at once, as the roles of several of these heavily overlap and simply suggest a differing business model more than anything else.

Camp counselors are responsible for working directly with the children left at day camps or longer term overnight camps. Responsible for putting together various outdoor-themed activities for their wards, such as swimming, hiking, kayaking, and other campground activities, the camp counselor is designed to be the focal point for the duration of the childrens’ stay at a camp.

Activity specialists do not have people attached to them as do camp counselors. Instead, these specialists deal with incoming groups of people and instruct them in a single topic in which they are particularly skilled. Where the camp counselor is responsible for the day-to-day activities, activity specialist is responsible for, say, the big crafts project or the music program.

Camp directors are responsible for the administrative tasks needed for the continued operation of a campground. They are also responsible for moderating the conduct of camp counselors.

Recreation leaders are individuals who are responsible for the day-to-day function of a particular recreation program, such as the classes down at the local YMCA. To this end, they are responsible for properly navigating the bureaucracy of the community center with which they are associated, as well as the actual instruction of the class or activity itself, in order to give the paying customer the proper experience.

Recreation supervisors are responsible for the management of the various recreation leaders. While some supervisors may also perform as a recreation leader, they are primarily the bridge between recreation leaders and the directors of recreation and parks.

Directors of recreation and parks are responsible for the overall management of the recreation programs found in playgrounds, parks, campgrounds, and the like. Such is the nature of their work that they are quite divorced from the actual client-to-client details of the operation and are effectively specialized business personnel.


For part-time recreation workers, work in the industry is a seasonal thing and advancement is not realistically expected. For full-time employees, advancement is made by jumping from a supervisory role to an administrative role. This effectively makes the design pyramidal, with the part-time workers doing the bulk of the actual customer-facing work and the full-time workers acting as layers of bureaucracy until reaching the administrator at the top. Given the need to focus on bureaucratic needs, the educational requirements for advancement are rather steep to compensate for this need.

Those looking to gain the proper credentials for advancement can receive certification from the National Recreation and Park Administration, or NRPA. In order to quality for the certification exam, the recreation worker must have a bachelor’s degree in recreation, park resources, or leisure activities from a college that is accredited with the NRPA. If the degree is from a college that is not accredited, a year of work experience will compensate for this. If the degree is not one of the degrees preferred by the NPRA, three years of work experience will compensate for this. Those without a degree can qualify for the exam with five years of work experience.

Job Outlook

Hired both by local governments and private companies in both seasonal and full-time capacities, the work supply for recreation workers is as varied as though who themselves fall under the umbrella. As the American economy and the underlying social principles of the nation mature, it is likely that the continued focus on both parents working will create more demand for further campground opportunities. This is reflected in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ forecast for the industry with which the recreation worker is associated. While the average industry is expected to grow 14% from 2010 to 2020, campgrounds and the like are expected to hire 19% more workers in that same period, more than 30% faster than the average growth rate.