Adventure Training Consultants – Denmark, Western Australia and Beyond

How to judge a book by its cover

Date: 27th June 2017

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.

Posted in: Adventure Training Blog