Recreation workers design and lead leisure activities for groups in volunteer agencies or recreation facilities, such as playgrounds, parks, camps, aquatic centers, and senior centers. They may lead activities such as arts and crafts, sports, adventure programs, music, and camping.


Recreation workers typically do the following:

  • Plan, organize, and lead activities for groups or recreation centers
  • Explain the rules of the activities and instruct participants at a variety of skill levels
  • Enforce safety rules to prevent injury
  • Modify activities to suit the needs of specific groups, such as seniors
  • Administer basic first aid if needed
  • Organize and set up the equipment that is used in recreational activities
  • Teach activity participants about the local environment, such as area wildlife

The specific responsibilities of recreation workers vary greatly with their job title, their level of training, and the state they work in. The following are examples of types of recreation workers:

Camp counselors work directly with youth in residential (overnight) or day camps. They often lead and instruct children and teenagers in a variety of outdoor activities, such as swimming, hiking, horseback riding, or nature study. Counselors also provide guidance and supervise daily living and socialization. Some counselors may specialize in a specific activity, such as archery, boating, music, drama, or gymnastics.

Camp directors typically supervise camp counselors, plan camp activities or programs, and do the administrative tasks that keep the camp running. Directors may also be involved in fund-raising, public relations, and community engagement.

Activity specialists provide instruction and coaching primarily in one activity, such as dance, swimming, or tennis. These workers may work in camps, aquatic centers, or anywhere else where there is interest in a single activity.

Recreation leaders are responsible for a recreation program’s daily operation. They primarily organize and direct participants, schedule the use of facilities, set up and keep records of equipment use, and ensure that recreation facilities and equipment are used and maintained properly. They may lead classes and provide instruction in a recreational activity, such as kayaking or golf.

Recreation supervisors oversee recreation leaders. They often serve as a point of contact between the director of a park or recreation center and the recreation leaders. Some supervisors also may direct special activities or events or oversee a major activity, such as aquatics, gymnastics, or one or more 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.

Work Environment

Recreation workers held about 345,400 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most recreation workers in 2012 were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 33%
Nursing and residential care facilities 16
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 12
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 10
Social assistance 8

Recreation workers are employed in a variety of settings, including summer camps, recreation centers, parks, resorts, and cruise ships. They may also work in nursing and residential care facilities as well as in community and vocational rehabilitation services. Many workers spend much of their time outdoors. Recreation directors and supervisors, however, typically spend most of their time in an office, planning programs and special events.

All recreation workers may risk injury while participating in physical activities.

Work Schedules

In 2012, about half of all recreation workers worked full time. Some recreation workers, such as camp counselors, may work weekends or irregular hours or may be seasonally employed.

Education and Training

The education and training requirements for recreation workers vary with the type of job, but workers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree.

Education and Training

Recreation workers who work full time typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. Though less common, associate’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are also available.

In 2012, the Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism, and Related Professions, a branch of the National Recreation and Park Association, accredited 81 bachelor’s degree programs in recreation or leisure studies.

Programs typically include courses in management, human development, community organization, supervision, and administration. Students also take courses in developing programs for populations with specific needs, such as the elderly or people with special needs. Students may specialize in areas such as park management, outdoor recreation, industrial or commercial recreation, and camp management.

A bachelor’s degree in other subjects, such as liberal arts or public administration, may also qualify applicants for some positions.

Supervisory positions may require at least a master’s degree in parks and recreation, business administration, or public administration.

A seasonal or part-time worker may not need postsecondary education. They typically learn to do their jobs through a short period of on-the-job training.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Recreation workers must be able to communicate well. They often work with large groups of people and need to give clear instructions, motivate participants, and maintain order and safety.

Flexibility. Recreation workers must be flexible when planning activities. They must be able to adapt plans to suit changing environmental conditions and each client’s needs.

Leadership skills. Recreation workers should be able to lead both large and small groups. They often lead activities for people of all ages and abilities.

Physical strength. Recreation workers need to be physically fit. Their job may require a considerable amount of movement because they often demonstrate activities while explaining them.

Problem-solving skills. Recreation workers need strong problem-solving skills. They must be able to create and reinvent activities and programs for all types of participants.

For recreation workers who generally work part time, such as camp counselors and activity specialists, certain qualities may be more important than postsecondary education. These qualities include a worker’s experience leading activities, the ability to work well with children or the elderly, and the ability to ensure the safety of participants.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) offers four certifications for recreation workers. Applicants may qualify for certification with different combinations of education and work experience. They must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification.

The American Camp Association also offers four certificates for various levels of camp staff. Individuals who complete online courses may show their advanced level of knowledge of core competencies.

Some recreation jobs require certification. For example, a lifesaving certificate is often required for teaching or coaching water-related activities. These certifications are available from organizations such as the YMCA or the Red Cross. Specific requirements vary by job and employer.


As workers gain experience, they may be promoted to positions with greater responsibilities. Recreation workers with experience and managerial skills may advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Eventually, they may become directors of a recreation department or may start their own recreation company.


The median annual wage for recreation workers was $22,240 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,900, and the top 10 percent earned more than $38,750.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for recreation workers in the top five industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing and residential care facilities $24,210
Social assistance 22,640
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 22,160
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and
similar organizations
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 19,320

In 2012, about half of all recreation workers worked full time. Some recreation workers, such as camp counselors, may work weekends or irregular hours or may be seasonally employed.

Job Outlook

Employment of recreation workers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. In response to growing rates of childhood obesity, a number of federal, state, and local campaigns have been established to encourage young people to be physically active. As more emphasis is placed on the importance of exercise, more recreation workers will be needed to work in fitness centers, sports centers, and camps specializing in younger participants.

In addition, as the baby-boom generation grows older, there will be more demand for recreation workers to work with older clients in social assistance organizations and in nursing and residential care facilities.

Job Prospects

Job prospects will be best for those seeking part-time, seasonal, or temporary recreation jobs. Because workers in these jobs tend to be students or young people, they must be replaced when they leave for school or jobs in other occupations, thus creating many job openings.

Workers with higher levels of formal education related to recreation should have better prospects at getting full-time positions. Volunteer experience, part-time work during school, and a summer job also are viewed favorably for both full- and part-time positions.

For More Information

For information on careers, certification, and academic programs in parks and recreation, visit

National Recreation and Park Association

For information about a career as a camp counselor, visit

American Camp Association