Recreation Workers

Quick Facts: Recreation Workers
2017 Median Pay $24,540 per year 
$11.80 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 390,000
Job Outlook, 2016-26 9% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 34,000

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Recreation Workers Career, Salary, and Education Information

What Recreation Workers Do

Recreation workers design and lead activities to help people stay active, improve fitness, and have fun. They work with groups in summer camps, fitness and recreational sports centers, nursing care facilities, nature parks, and other settings. They may lead such activities as arts and crafts, sports, music, dramatics, or games.


Recreation workers

Duties of recreation workers

Recreation workers typically do the following:

  • Plan, organize, and lead activities for groups or recreation centers

  • Explain the rules of 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

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:

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.

Camp counselors work directly with youths 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.

Work Environment for Recreation Workers

Recreation workers held about 390,000 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of recreation workers were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals: 31%

Nursing and residential care facilities: 16%

Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations: 13%

Social assistance: 9%

Self-employed workers: 7%

Many workers spend much of their time outdoors. Others provide instruction indoors, for activities such as dance or karate. Still others typically spend most of their time in an office, planning programs and special events.

Recreation workers may face some injury risk while participating in physical activities.

Work Schedules

Many recreation workers, such as camp counselors or activity specialists, work weekends or part-time or irregular hours, or may be seasonally employed. Seasonal workers may work as few as 90 days or as long as 9 months during a season, depending on where they are employed and the type of activity they lead. For example, in areas of the United States that have warm winters, outdoor swimming pools may employ related recreation workers for a majority of the year. In other areas of the country, they may work only during the summer.

How to Become a Recreation Worker

Education and training requirements for recreation workers vary with the type of job, but workers typically need at least a high school diploma or the equivalent and receive on-the-job training.

Education and Training

Recreation workers typically need at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Many receive on-the-job training that typically lasts less than a month.

Entry-level educational requirements vary with the type of position. For example, an activity leader position working with the elderly will have different requirements than a position as a summer camp counselor working with children.

Some positions may require a bachelor’s degree or college coursework. In 2017, the Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism, and Related Professions, a branch of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), accredited more than 70 bachelor’s degree programs in recreation or leisure studies. A bachelor’s degree in other subjects, such as liberal arts or public administration, may also qualify applicants for some positions.

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 participants’ 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. Most recreation workers should 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 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 NRPA offers four certifications for recreation workers:

  • Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (CPRP)

  • Certified Parks and Recreation Executive (CPRE)

  • Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO)

  • Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI)

Applicants may qualify for certification with different combinations of education and work experience. They also must take continuing education classes to maintain their certification.

The American Camp Association offers certificates for various levels of camp staff, including Entry-Level Program Staff Certificate and Camp Director Certificate. Individuals who complete online courses may show their advanced level of knowledge of core competencies.

Some recreation jobs require other kinds of certification. For example, first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certifications may be required for leading camp or sports activities. These certifications are available from organizations such as the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross.

Jobs for recreation workers may also require a valid driver’s license and the ability to pass a background check.

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.

salaries for Recreation Workers

The median annual wage for recreation workers was $24,540 in May 2017. 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 $18,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $42,560.


In May 2017, the median annual wages for recreation workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing and residential care facilities: $26,640

Social assistance: $25,410

Local government, excluding education and hospitals: $24,390

Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations: $23,350

Many recreation workers, such as camp counselors or activity specialists, work weekends or part-time or irregular hours, or may be seasonally employed. Seasonal workers may work as few as 90 days or as long as 9 months during a season, depending on where they are employed and the type of activity they lead. For example, in areas of the United States that have warm winters, outdoor swimming pools may employ related recreation workers for a majority of the year. In other areas of the country, they may work only during the summer.

Job Outlook for Recreation Workers

Employment of recreation workers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As more emphasis is placed on the importance of lifelong well-being, more recreation workers will be needed to work with children and adults in a variety of settings.

Additional recreation workers are expected to be needed to work for fitness and recreational sports centers, youth centers, sports clubs, and other for- and not-for-profit organizations because some parks and recreation departments may seek to cut costs by contracting out the services of activity specialists.

In addition, as the baby-boom generation grows older, there will be more demand for recreation workers to work with older clients, especially in continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly.

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 year-round 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.

Employment projections data for Recreation Workers, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 390,000

Projected Employment, 2026: 423,900

Change, 2016-2026: +9%, +34,000

Careers Related to Recreation Workers

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Athletes and sports competitors participate in organized, officiated sporting events to entertain spectators.

Athletic Trainers

Athletic trainers specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating muscle and bone injuries and illnesses.

Exercise Physiologists

Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise programs that help patients recover from chronic diseases and improve cardiovascular function, body composition, and flexibility.

Fitness Trainers and Instructors

Fitness trainers and instructors lead, instruct, and motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular exercises (exercises for the heart and blood circulation), strength training, and stretching. They work with people of all ages and skill levels.

Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners

Meeting, convention, and event planners coordinate all aspects of events and professional meetings. They arrange meeting locations, transportation, and other details.

Recreational Therapists

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. These therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings to help maintain or improve a patient’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.

School and Career Counselors

School counselors help students develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed in school. Career counselors help people choose careers and follow a path to employment.

Social Workers

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

Athletic TrainersBachelor's degree$46,630
Fitness Trainers and InstructorsHigh school diploma or equivalent$39,210
Meeting, Convention, and Event PlannersBachelor's degree$48,290
Recreational TherapistsBachelor's degree$47,680
Rehabilitation CounselorsMaster's degree$34,860
School and Career CounselorsMaster's degree$55,410
Exercise PhysiologistsBachelor's degree$49,090
Athletes and Sports CompetitorsNo formal educational credential$51,370
Social Workers$47,980


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Recreation Workers,
on the Internet at