> Resources > Types
of Jobs > Recreation Worker
Educational requirements for recreation workers range from a high school
diploma to a graduate degree. Competition will remain keen for full-time
career positions in recreation. The recreation field offers an unusually
large number of part-time and seasonal job opportunities.
Nature of the Work
People spend much of their leisure time participating in a wide variety
of organized recreational activities, such as arts and crafts, the performing
arts, camping, and sports. Recreation workers plan, organize, and direct
these activities in local playgrounds and recreation areas, parks, community
centers, religious organizations, camps, theme parks, and tourist attractions.
Increasingly, recreation workers also are being found in workplaces,
where they organize and direct leisure activities for employees.
Recreation workers hold a variety of positions at different levels of
responsibility. Recreation leaders, who are responsible for a recreation
program’s daily operation, primarily organize and direct participants.
They may lead and give instruction in dance, drama, crafts, games, and
sports; schedule the use of facilities; keep records of equipment use;
and ensure that recreation facilities and equipment are used properly.
Workers who provide instruction and coach groups in specialties such
as art, music, drama, swimming, or tennis may be called activity specialists.
Recreation supervisors oversee recreation leaders and plan, organize,
and manage recreational activities to meet the needs of a variety of
populations. These workers often serve as liaisons between the director
of the park or recreation center and the recreation leaders. Recreation
supervisors with more specialized responsibilities also may direct special
activities or events or oversee a major activity, such as aquatics, gymnastics,
or performing arts. Directors of recreation and parks develop and manage
comprehensive recreation programs in parks, playgrounds, and other settings.
Directors usually serve as technical advisors to State and local recreation
and park commissions and may be responsible for recreation and park budgets.
(Workers in a related occupation, recreational therapists, help individuals
to recover from or adjust to illness, disability, or specific social
problems; this occupation is described elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Camp counselors lead and instruct children and teenagers in outdoor-oriented
forms of recreation, such as swimming, hiking, horseback riding, and
camping. In addition, counselors provide campers with specialized instruction
in subjects such as archery, boating, music, drama, gymnastics, tennis,
and computers. In resident camps, counselors also provide guidance and
supervise daily living and general socialization. Camp directors typically
supervise camp counselors, plan camp activities or programs, and perform
the various administrative functions of a camp.
Recreation workers may work in a variety of settings—for example,
a cruise ship, a woodland recreational park, a summer camp, or a playground
in the center of a large urban community. Regardless of the setting,
most recreation workers spend much of their time outdoors and may work
in a variety of weather conditions. Recreation directors and supervisors,
however, typically spend most of their time in an office, planning programs
and special events. Directors and supervisors generally engage in less
physical activity than do lower level recreation workers. Nevertheless,
recreation workers at all levels risk suffering injuries during physical
Many recreation workers work about 40 hours a week. People entering
this field, especially camp counselors, should expect some night and
weekend work and irregular hours. Many recreation jobs are seasonal.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
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
bachelor’s degree in any liberal arts field may be sufficient for
some jobs in the private sector. In industrial recreation, or “employee
services” as it is more commonly called, companies prefer to hire
those with a bachelor’s 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 associate’s
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
A bachelor’s 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 master’s
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 associate’s or bachelor’s degree
in parks and recreation, leisure studies, or related fields are offered
at several hundred colleges and universities. Many also offer master’s
or doctoral degrees in the field. In 2004, about 100 bachelor’s
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
bachelor’s 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 bachelor’s 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
Recreation workers held about 310,000 jobs in 2004, and many additional
workers held summer jobs in the occupation. Of those with year-round
jobs as recreation workers, about 35 percent worked for local governments,
primarily in park and recreation departments. Around 11 percent of recreation
workers were employed in civic and social organizations, such as the
Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or the Red Cross. Another 15 percent of recreation
workers were employed by nursing and other personal care facilities.
The recreation field has an unusually large number of part-time, seasonal,
and volunteer jobs, including summer camp counselors, craft specialists,
and afterschool and weekend recreation program leaders. In addition,
many teachers and college students accept jobs as recreation workers
when school is not in session. The vast majority of volunteers serve
as activity leaders at local day camp programs, or in youth organizations,
camps, nursing homes, hospitals, senior centers, and other settings.
Competition will remain keen for career positions as recreation workers
because the field attracts many applicants and because the number of
career positions is limited compared with the number of lower level seasonal
jobs. Opportunities for staff positions should be best for persons with
formal training and experience gained in part-time or seasonal recreation
jobs. Those with graduate degrees should have the best opportunities
for supervisory or administrative positions. Job openings also will stem
from the need to replace the large numbers of workers who leave the occupation
Overall employment of recreation workers is expected to grow about as
fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. People will spend
more time and money on recreation, spurring growth in civic and social
organizations and, to a lesser degree, State and local government. Much
growth will be driven by retiring baby boomers, who, with more leisure
time, high disposable income, and concern for health and fitness, are
expected to increase their consumption of recreation services. Job growth
also will be driven by rapidly increasing employment in nursing and residential
care facilities. Employment growth may be inhibited, however, by budget
constraints that local governments may face over the 2004–14 projection
The large number of temporary, seasonal jobs in the recreation field
typically are filled by high school or college students, generally do
not have formal education requirements, and are open to anyone with the
desired personal qualities. Employers compete for a share of the vacationing
student labor force, and although salaries in recreation often are lower
than those in other fields, the nature of the work and the opportunity
to work outdoors are attractive to many.
In May 2004, median annual earnings of recreation workers who worked
full time were $19,320. The middle 50 percent earned between $15,640
and $25,380. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $13,260, while
the highest paid 10 percent earned $34,280 or more. However, earnings
of recreation directors and others in supervisory or managerial positions
can be substantially higher. Most public and private recreation agencies
provide full-time recreation workers with typical benefits; part-time
workers receive few, if any, benefits. In May 2004, median annual earnings
in the industries employing the largest numbers of recreation workers
were as follows:
Nursing care facilities $20,660
Local government 19,650
Individual and family services 19,260
Other amusement and recreation industries 17,060
Civic and social organizations 16,950