Adventure Training Consultants – Denmark, Western Australia and Beyond

Adventure Training Blog

27th June 2017

How to judge a book by its cover

How to judge a book by its cover – judging adventure activity providers

The old adage states that we should never judge a book by its cover, quite often though, when making decisions about outdoor activity providers (whether working for them or using them to provide courses) that is exactly what we are required to do. We make a decision about the company or organisation based on their public profile, their website and if we are lucky a recommendation from someone we trust. Often the jargon involved will sound very impressive, how much of it though can be substantiated and what does it really mean?

To shed some light on the terminology used and assist people in making informed decisions some of the commonly used accreditations and claims are explained below, understanding what each of these means and their limitations should ensure you have a better understanding of the organisations you work with or engage.

  • ATAP accredited – ATAP is the Australian Tourism Accreditation Programme, many organisations will be ATAP accredited as it is often a requirement in order to get consent to operate on public land, this is not a safety accreditation, it is a customer service accreditation programme mainly aimed at the hospitality and tourism industry. Good for ensuring quality customer service systems, but does not address safety management or appropriateness of adventure activity providers
  • $? Public liability insurance – All organisations should have some level of public liability insurance, again it is generally a requirement in order to gain consent to operate on pubic land. The important aspect to note here is that public liability insurance protects the business from financial risk of being found liable for a third party loss from the business negligence. It is not a direct compensation scheme, it is mainly protection for the business.
  • NOLRS registered – NOLRS (National Outdoor Leader Registration Scheme) is an organisation that for a fee will “register” outdoor leaders, It is not particularly national as it is used mainly in WA (and only really for abseil qualifications because of a historic policy). It is utilised a little in QLD but to a lesser extent. The downfall of NOLRS is that it doesn’t really do anything, it provides no training or assessment or continued professional development. It has little activity specific technical expertise involved and little external or international validation. To become “NOLRS registered” requires only a foundation level certificate or qualification from an RTO and as little as 18 hours experience.
  • Cert III Outdoor recreation – Cert III represents the entry level qualification to work in the outdoor industry in Australia, it is aimed at operation in a “controlled environment” and is the suitable level for someone working at an on site multi activity camp or working in a genuine outdoor environment as an assistant or under supervision of a more qualified instructor. What the holder is competent at doing is heavily dependant on the specific activity groups they have completed. There is significant difference in the quality of providers, from lengthy full time courses from specialist TAFES to short online courses, where the qualification was achieved can be very relevant.
  • Cert IV Outdoor recreation – Cert IV represents the appropriate level to work in uncontrolled environments or to “instruct” in easier environments, again the relevance is very dependent on specific activity groups achieved and organisation awarded / trained through.
  • “Highly Qualified staff” – A commonly used and less quantifiable claim, what is highly qualified? I would suggest “Highly qualified” should mean the staff are qualified over and above the level they are operating at, if they are providing flat water canoe sessions and they are a white-water canoe instructor then that would constitute highly qualified. Ask the next operator you work with and see if this criteria fits or if they are in fact just qualified (or even under qualified).
  • “High staff to participant ratio” – Another favourite and less quantifiable claim, If you consult established guidelines of professional organisations in various countries there is a common theme across activities of around 1 to 8 (qualified instructors to participants), obviously this slightly loosens in very controllable environments (such as on site multi activity camps) and tightens in less controllable environments (in the wilderness, on whitewater, at a Crag etc.). What ratios does your provider use?

There are many claims made by organisations and providers beyond the ones outlined above, it is important to fully understand what the claims or accreditations mean as they can often sound more impressive than they are. The value of participation in outdoor adventure activities is partly in the nature of the unknown or potential risks and rewards involved, these potential risks though should be adequately controlled for the situation, outdoor leaders who have the appropriate experience, competency and qualification are the critical aspect in ensuring good supervision and continual risk management.

As with books look beyond the exterior cover and delve into the content.

24th October 2016

Outdoor Adventure in WA’s Great Southern Region

Adventure activities in the Great Southern region of WA

With a change in season down here in the Great Southern comes a change in the adventures that are available to keep us entertained.

We have had an excellent winter which provided plenty of water to keep the rivers topped up meaning the whitewater kayaking and canoeing opportunities were plentiful, after four and a half months of quality levels (and some really good high water) the white-water season would now seem to be officially over.

The Frankland river has probably seen more WW paddling than it has in many years (possibly ever), with a few locals getting out regularly, a couple of visits from groups from Perth and instructional WW canoe and kayak courses using various sections, the river has received plenty of attention. Towards the end of the season it even had a bit of high quality filming done that will show off some of the best known sections in a bid to inspire more WW enthusiasts (hopefully the footage will be available soon).

The river had it’s own fun throughout the season claiming a few swims, two broken paddles, two lost paddles and a lost GoPro (and possibly a few others that I don’t know about?), hopefully we will come across the lost items and be able to return them to their owners when we go down at low water levels to sort out a few potential hazards.

Now the weather has changed it is time to look at other options for adventurous fun, down here on the south coast there is certainly no shortage of opportunities. The drier weather means that some of our fantastic rock climbing venues are good to go again, West Cape Howe, The Stirling ranges and Torndirrup national park are providing vast amounts of quality routes for getting onto.

There is also still paddling to be done, sea kayaking, open canoeing and surf kayaking will be taking up plenty of my time.

As always we are running a full range of skills and instructor training / assessment courses for all these activities throughout the year, if you would like to learn new skills or get qualified then give us a shout.

If you have never explored the adventure activities and areas of the Great Southern before then get yourself down here as you will not be disappointed.

20th July 2016

What do you call Qualified?

I recently came across a document, it was stated in it that,

DET sources estimate that there are 600 outdoor educators in WA public schools (450 in secondary schools and 150 in primary schools) who need to be trained up to the required competencies outlined in the AAS”

Granted this document is four years old and the situation may have changed since then, but given that the AAS (Adventure Activity Standards) outline minimum competencies based on the Outdoor Recreation national training package then it would appear there is significant under qualification, this got me thinking, what do we call qualified?

When it comes to people taking on leadership or instructional roles in outdoor adventure environments, whether they are teachers, outdoor instructors, outdoor guides or multi activity camp instructors, there are large variations in what they mean or what the organisation requires them to have in regards to being qualified. I have seen in practice and read in safety management plans a whole range of opinions on what constitutes qualified, some of which I would agree with, others that I would strongly oppose. There appears to often be confusion around skills or qualifications a qualified leader / instructor would have and what makes them qualified to operate in a given environment.

First aid certificate, WWC (Working with children check), Police clearance” – These are all commonly required by those working in the outdoors, I would agree that all outdoor instructors should posses these, however nothing about any of these certifications or qualifications specifically provides people with the skills to operate in any outdoor environment.

Bronze medallion” or “Aquatic rescue qualification” – again commonly required by those working in the outdoors, appropriate for those supervising participants in water activities ( though lifeguard qualifications are probably more appropriate). Often used as a way to suggest a person is qualified to supervise canoeing and kayaking activities, even though nothing within them addresses canoeing or kayaking competency?

Abseil guide single pitch natural surface” (from the outdoor rec training package) – commonly used as an all encompassing “roping” qualification (though there is no such activity as roping),this is an appropriate qualification for use as it is designed (ie. Single pitch natural surface abseil guiding, working under defined procedures, with more qualified supervision available). Not suitable for guiding rock climbing, canyoning or caving activities. These other activities whilst having similarities have there own specific techniques and systems that are not covered by a foundation level abseil qualification.

In house” or “ site specific trained” – internal training and assessment systems are commonly used and are very appropriate to environments where people operate in a limited capacity, they can range from extremely robust and credible, to a complete farce. If the process is run by people with high levels of qualification, training / assessment experience and is well documented then it can be of a standard on par with any national system, on the other hand if it is people with only limited experience, foundation level qualification and knowledge, passing on what they were told without any critical analysis, then the quality and credibility can be significantly lower.

Outdoor instruction and teaching in the outdoors is a significantly judgement based occupation, we work in a variable environment and need to be constantly risk assessing and reviewing the situation as it progresses. I have a very clear view on what I consider to be “Qualified”, it is not based on one specific qualification or a specific scheme, I do however expect that people have appropriate training and have been assessed by a credible organisation or person as having activity specific competence in a true, holistic setting.

Qualification is really only the starting point, we still have current competency and experience to consider, each of which are equally critical to providing safe quality experiences in outdoor adventure environments. If you have involvement in making decisions on what is “Qualified” in regards to choosing adventure camps, outdoor instructors or outdoors ed teachers then it may be worth evaluating what is acceptable to you and exploring if it would be justifiable to others.

31st January 2016

Ratios – where do you draw the line?

Establishing appropriate ratios for conducting outdoor adventure activities is extremely important, there are many organisations that prescribe or recommend differing levels of supervision, because of this anyone who has been involved within the outdoor industry has likely been put in a position at some point where they have been asked to (or expected to) stretch the acceptable ratios. Where do we draw the line?

There are numerous reasons that we have recommended group sizes and supervision levels, obviously safety but also session quality, environmental impact, impact on other site users and the general public.

Within these reasons there are more variables such as the activity being undertaken, the participants age and ability, the environment we are operating in, the instructors qualification / current competency and experience. As professional outdoor instructors it is our role to take into account all the recommendations and variables and exercise judgement that ensures that we operate in a safe sustainable manner and provide quality experiences.

A common theme amongst organisations is to use a process that incorporates an additional “responsible adult” and use this as a basis to stretch the accepted ratio, the reality of this however is that the “qualified instructor” is now supervising the original group of dependant participants plus the “responsible adult” and the additional dependent participants from the stretched ratio.

A slight modification on the above theme is the use of a “skilled assistant” to justify an increase in the number of dependent participants, this suffers from the same problems as the “responsible adult” approach, the “qualified instructor” is put into a position of supervising the original group plus the “skilled assistant” and additional dependent participants (whether a “skilled assistant” increases or decreases the margin of safety is heavily dependent on their individual experience, knowledge and competency).

A better way to look at the situation is to ask ourselves “are we making the group stronger or weaker?”.

We really only have a few different types of roles involved with any outdoor adventure group, these are,

  • Qualified instructors – they have been assessed by a reputable organisation as having the appropriate level of competency and experience to allow them to look after others within a given activity and environment.

  • Competent individuals – people who have a level of skill and ability to look after themselves within a given activity and environment and are not reliant on a qualified instructor for their safe participation.

  • Dependent participants – people who are reliant on the qualified instructor and would not be participating in a given activity or environment without direction from them.

Would adding a Competent individual make the group stronger overall?

Quite possibly, under the direction of the qualified instructor their individual skills and abilities could benefit the group.

Would adding a Competent individual plus additional dependent participants make the group stronger overall?

Probably not, the larger number of dependent participants puts more supervision pressure on the “Qualified instructor” the “Competent individual” is now being relied upon to supervise.

Being an adult does not automatically make a person a Competent individual in regards to operation or participation within outdoor adventure activities. If you are the Qualified instructor running the session all the people involved (adults, minors, Competent individuals, Dependent participants) are your responsibility, there for you need to be sure you are able to supply appropriate supervision to all (and can justify the numbers you supervise).

There will always be pressures to stretch ratios, you certainly do not want to be involved when the stretch finally snaps! The ratios developed by professional organisations both nationally and internationally have been done so in response to serious incidents, I would encourage all professional instructors to “draw their line” as recommended by those professional organisations.

19th November 2015

Top tips for Outdoor Instruction

Top Tips for outdoor instruction

Working as an outdoor instructor in different areas I have had the opportunity to work alongside many talented outdoor professionals, in this time I have “borrowed” (or blatantly stolen?) and used many of the different approaches that I have seen, below are a selection of the top tips that I have learned over time (there are many more, these are merely a selection of my current favourites).

  • Ensure your approach to all instruction is simple, effective and efficient

  • Negative instruction rarely has positive outcomes (be positive with instructions and demonstrations)

  • There is no such thing as a stupid client, only a bad instructor

  • Learn to lead your group from an appropriate position (not just the front)

  • If your group is bored, you are boring

  • Good judgement is critical as an outdoor instructor

  • Attempting to work beyond your ability or experience is not a good idea

  • Just because you have used the same approach for 20 years doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way

  • Avoid judging people by their appearance

  • Observe as many other instructors / coaches as possible, adopt or adapt what you like and learn from what you don’t

  • CLAP – Communication, Line of sight, Avoidance, Position of maximum use

  • If you can’t see your group, how do you know what they are doing? If you don’t know what they are doing, can you claim to be in control?

  • Have your own experiences and epics, don’t confine outdoor adventure only to work

4th September 2015

Whitewater fun on the Frankland

Whitewater fun on the Frankland

Over the last month or so we have been spending a bit of time on the whitewater sections of the Frankland river just outside Walpole, the river provides some very scenic paddling combined with a variety of whitewater sections that will keep most kayakers and canoeists entertained, with the good amount of rain we get down in this direction it makes for an excellent venue for all of our whitewater paddling and rescue courses.

Just another good reason to get into the outdoors down south in the Denmark / Walpole area.

We are not the only ones who appreciate the Frankland river, below is a testimonial from one of our course participants,

Stuart of Adventure Training Consultants coached me in the introduction to white-water kayaking course in August 2015 on the Frankland River. Stuart is passionate about white-water kayaking and, I gather, all the outdoor activities in which he participates. At all times I felt I was being coached to a level suitable for my skills and experience. I felt safe while being challenged to step outside my comfort zone and at the same time we could have a laugh. I have no doubt about Stuart’s competence as a kayaking instructor. When I tested Stuart’s rescue and recovery skills on several occasions, Stuart came through with “flying colours” and with good cheer. Finally, the Frankland River is a world class river. To kayak through stunning Karri and Tingle forest is truly unique. A “must do”.”

Craig McKie – Introduction to WW kayaking course August 2015

4th July 2015

Outdoor recreation CPD workshops

To help people maintain currency and spread wider industry thoughts on good practice, Adventure Training Consultants will be facilitating a number of free one day CPD workshops on various outdoor instructing / coaching topics, the topics we have in mind at the moment are,

  • Systems and rigging for single pitch abseiling / climbing

  • Canoe / kayak games and activities for skill development

  • Single pitch abseil / climbing safety and rescue

These workshops are for qualified outdoor leaders, trainers, assessors and teachers, the idea being to introduce and experiment with different systems and approaches whilst exploring good practice options, they are a good way to ensure currency and get any thoughts or questions you may have answered, participants should bring required equipment and an open / questioning mind.

If interested get in touch, places are limited, dates will be set once a group of interested people are identified.

25th June 2015

Understanding Outdoor Recreation Qualifications

I am often asked by people who would like to become outdoor guides or instructors how they should go about it and what qualifications / courses they should do, there exists a whole selection of options and pathways and for those who are not familiar with the industry it can become confusing and frustrating.

The first concept to understand is that a qualification is essentially just confirmation of your experience and competency by an external organisation, there for the credibility of any qualification will ultimately be judged on the expertise and reputation of the organisation that awards / administers it.

In Australia there are essentially two pathways of recognised technical qualifications within the outdoor industry, they are,

  • The Nationally endorsed training package, sometimes referred to as VET (vocational educational training), consisting of a number of qualifications – Certificate II, III, IV, Diploma of outdoor recreation and skills sets – Abseil Guide single pitch (natural surface), canyoning guide multi pitch etc.
  • National organisations, activity specific professional bodies, independent companies – such as AC (Australian Canoeing), ACIA (Australian Climbing Instructor Association), RLSS (Royal Life Saving Society), Rescue 3 International, these organisation deliver and administer training and qualifications within their own areas of expertise and normally require a membership / revalidation process.

Qualifications and skill sets from the Nationally endorsed training package are delivered by RTO’s (Registered Training Organisations) and TAFE’s, there can be significant differences in the way the required units and elements are interpreted and delivered by the different organisations, there are RTO’s and TAFE’s that specialise in the delivery of the outdoor recreation package and provide high quality training and assessment processes, there are also RTO’s that deliver from the training package that do not have the same level of specialist knowledge or expertise which is then reflected in the quality of training and assessment provided.

National organisations, activity specific professional bodies and independent companies deliver training and guide / instructor schemes that they have created themselves, and work to their own syllabus and moderation processes, these organisations tend to consist of the leading instructors / coaches within the activity specific area and tend to have links to other international organisations, because they have control over their training and assessment processes there is normally more consistency with standards, a higher expected level of involvement / proficiency within the activity and an ongoing membership / qualification currency requirement.

Many outdoor professionals will be qualified through both or a mixture of these pathways, the key to being considered useful within the industry is being able to show Experience, Competency and Qualification. With that in mind if you would like to work as an outdoor instructor or guide you should,

  1. Participate in the activity you want to guide or instruct, to be able to guide or instruct others in an outdoor activity you need to develop good judgement which only comes through experience.

  2. Practice the activity you wish to guide or instruct, attend training courses and skills development courses, practice and participate with your peers, to guide or instruct others and look after their safety in the outdoors requires you to be able to operate in the environment with ease, your personal skills and abilities need to be high enough to look after yourself and the people with you.

  3. Prove your abilities through demonstration / assessment to a respected recognisable organisation (RTO, TAFE, National organisation, professional body etc.) to gain a qualification / certificate that indicates they agree with you that you have the required skills and experience.

Most organisations offer a training and assessment process, this is good as it helps you develop your instructional / guiding abilities and have consolidation time to practice and develop them, you can then be assessed when you feel you have developed the required ability level.

Once any outdoor activity qualification is achieved you should consider it the start of the process and aim to progress up through the qualification system or broaden your ability and knowledge base through continued development, systems and good practice are constantly evolving processes, continued improvement and development should be the aim.

19th May 2015

Technical advisors, a reliable way to ensure good practice

The outdoor industry has a wide spectrum of operation, from on site multi activity camps in very controllable environments through to mountain guiding or technical whitewater paddling in environments with multiple variables, the aim of all operators no matter which part of the spectrum they operate in is generally to manage or remove risk where possible, this is normally done through a number of processes that make up a safety management system.

After significant in depth reviews on the best way to ensure operational safety within outdoor adventure activities, a number of different countries have come to the conclusion that the review or auditing of safety plans and the practical application of these plans by an external technical expert is a reliable approach to identify potential improvements, ensure operational safety and disseminate information on good practice.

All responsible operators in the outdoor adventure industry should be regularly reviewing their safety management systems, having the involvement of an external technical expert in this process has significant benefits, often we fail to see what is clearly in front of us, the simple process of a person not involved on a daily basis looking with a “fresh” pair of eyes can identify points that once brought up seem obvious.

To combine this “fresh” pair of eyes with the experience and knowledge of a technical expert allows thought processes and practical application to be critically evaluated and compared to wider industry good practice, the result being either independent external confirmation that your systems are safe and sound or the identification of areas that may require further work to prevent the “accidents” of the future.

Systems and accepted practice change over time due to the identification of causes of accidents, changes in equipment and the levels of risk accepted by society in general, we should not wait to learn from our own accidents and mistakes but should seek to learn from the wider industry, within the state, nationally and internationally.

Ask yourself, why you use the systems you use? Who designed the systems you use? Do your systems reflect what would be considered good practice by the wider industry? Could anything be improved?

Constant improvement and good practice should be the goal, external technical advice can help achieve it.

18th May 2015

Outdoor Rec courses WA

It has taken a little longer than we had originally hoped but we are now fully up and running providing a range of outdoor recreation courses and trips here in WA, our full range of skills courses and instructor / guide training and assessment courses should provide an option for everyone.

Whether you are looking at doing a skills course to broaden your own options for playing in the outdoors or looking for courses to provide training / assessment or CPD then it is likely we will have a course to suit.

We are based in Denmark in the Great Southern region, we have chosen to run our operations from here simply because it provides the best environment in the state for outdoor adventurous activities, we have quality climbing venues all around, a “lively” coastline for sea and surf kayaking as well as numerous perennial rivers and inlets to provide potential sheltered and whitewater possibilities. It is an all round spectacular area that should be visited by all at some point.

Come down, say hello, do a course or trip, explore the area, there is a lot of fun to be had.