Adventure Training Consultants – Denmark, Western Australia and Beyond

What do you call Qualified?

Date: 20th July 2016

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.

Posted in: Adventure Training Blog