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Careers working in the great outdoors
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Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Careers working in the great outdoors on 11/06/2011 01:22:56 MST Print View

Inspired by the "What do you do for a living?" thread, I wonder if anyone would be up for a discussion on careers related to the great outdoors?

I am an IT Project manager, and I spend most, if not all, of my 8-hour day sitting at a desk in front of a computer. I try to surf as many outdoor/nature-related websites that I can to fuel my mental escapes. But still there's no substitute for the real thing, am I right?

So, recently I have been doing some research, trying to figure out what my career options are. I am not looking for a career in the outdoor industry per se, I just want to work outdoors (and get away from a desk/computer at least 50% of the time). Also, I am looking into "viable" career options, "viable" meaning I can support a family, pay mortgage on a modest home, etc.

So, for those of you already working in the outdoors:

1. What do you do? How did you end up in your current role?
2. What sort of skills, experience, or education (qualifications) is required for obtaining a job in your field? What sort of personal qualities are necessary for suceeding in your job?
3. What is your ratio of desk/office work to work in the field?
4. What are the most satisfying/least satisifying aspects of your job?
5. What are the current and projected employment trends in your field? Are jobs being added or elimnated, etc.? How stable is employment?

Thanks in advance...

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Careers working in the great outdoors on 11/06/2011 07:16:44 MST Print View

Here are a few thoughts:

My husband works in Tech for a large company. It is a hard job doing what he does but it pays well. 8 hours a day? Wow, you have it easy. He works on average 60-70 hours a week!!

But let us look into his brain - when he goes into the outdoors it is pure pleasure for him, it is his vacation, his down time. And truthfully his work keeps his brain engaged. He does live for his nerdy work, he is a fixer of issues and problems - where no one else sees the solution.

My brother on the other hand has worked in the outdoors for many years and recently took as he puts it...a cushy indoors job. He realized at 40 he was getting too old to be freezing or sweating his rear off all day. Any job that requires outdoor time is going to physically demanding. Even the people who do surveying are outside all day, standing on their feet. Consider why so many guys doing construction attempt to become the boss by 40! They hurt!

Does that nirvana exist of 50/50%? Maybe. It could be there. But what you can well trade is a good paying tech career for a job that has its own boredom's and physical toil for a lot less $$. Sure you could get a job in wildlife management or forestry where you do go outside but you might find yourself being a paper pusher as well.

My husband's theory is put in the time, pay our mortgage down as quickly as we can, live below our means and because of that we can afford to enjoy our pleasure time.

Try to remember that if you make your hobbies your job you can end up hating your hobbies. But that is just my 2 cents.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Careers working in the great outdoors on 11/06/2011 07:23:16 MST Print View

I did what you do (more or less), and spent the last 12 years or my life working a desk job in the IT field. My role varied. I got paid extremely well and wouldn't be where I'm at now were it not for doing that and living lean. With that said, the last 5 or so years I spent depressed and burnt out. In April, I retired from that life. Prior to quitting though, I took on my role with BPL managing the School. My wife just finished her Doctorate and is a licensed Physical Therapist, so now she brings home the big bucks and I play for extra income. We basically traded roles for a little while and I plan to play until I feel like I need a real income again (which may never happen).

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
IT... on 11/06/2011 17:02:09 MST Print View

Hi Sarah,

I understand what you're trying to say, but...

I don't think I can stay in an IT job much longer, even if I wanted to. Doing project management, IT support work, etc., as I do is a losing proposition. Despite being knowledgeable, hardworking, diligent, a proven record of successes, getting on well with colleages, etc., I have been fired more times than I care to tabulate (usually for reasons beyond my influence or control--e.g., company merger, redundancy, etc.). Thanks to the inherent instability of the industry, companies now won't give my resume a second glance because "I've had too many jobs in the past." Great.

I should also mention that there is the trend to hire younger workers (and fire the older ones) as a method of controlling cost. But what about quality? you might ask. Quality has gone out the window. It's the bottom line that counts (it always did, but companies have become more ruthless about this--at the expense of quality, worker morale, etc.). That plus the trend to get cheap foreign workers via offshoring/outsourcing doesn't bode well for a stable future for the industry.

So, I gave 15 years of my life trying to build something that just wasn't meant to be, a career in IT. I'm too "old" to continue in my current capacity, yet I am still young enough to make a career change (and do the education, training, etc. that may be required), and perhaps embark in a career direction that is more stable, rewarding, personally fulfilling*, enjoyable, etc.

*sigh* I miss the good 'ole days when people were thought of as "people" and not "resources", when a person didn't have to pursue a career they weren't suited for in order to make a decent living...

*I currently work for a hedge fund, helping rich people get richer--how fulfilling is that?

Edited by NightMarcher on 11/06/2011 17:39:48 MST.

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Careers working in the Great Outdoors on 11/06/2011 20:42:26 MST Print View

My field is archaeology, and I was able to get plenty of field time, as well as make a decent living. I spent forty years in the National Park Service, most of which were really fine. In my final posting, working in a fairly large park, I spent about 40% of my time in the field, both on land and on the water.

You must realize that in any job like this, a fair amount of your time will be spent behind a desk, even in the best of circumstances. In the worst situations, you may find yourself shuffling papers (probably now you would actually be shuffling electrons) for dubious results. That was my lot for a few years and fortunately I was able to bust out and improve my situation.

Obviously, whatever area you may to enter, some retraining will be necessary. Your IT background will undoubtedly benefit you.

Whatever field you choose, be sure it has appeal to you above and beyond its requirement for outdoor time. Good luck.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: IT... on 11/06/2011 21:23:34 MST Print View


Good for you on looking for a change. One thing to keep in mind that turning "hobbies" or things you enjoy into work sometimes takes the luster away from it.

I second what Sarah said. I spent many years working as an automotive technician, in the days when we did not have climate controlled-shops. Blazing hot in the summer and bone chilling cold in the winter. Standing on my feet for 8-12 hours per day. Hard on the body after many years. I would think a lot of other outdoor jobs are the same. And if you are good, you will get pushed up to management and doing something similar to what you are now doing.

It is my opinion that most people want to be productive. The problem is finding a job you love. I "tele-commute." My corporate office is almost 3,000 miles away. How did I get this job? Well, I expanded the breadth of my skills, and really created my own job in the company. I work at home anywhere from 50% - 90% of the time. Depends upon the the year, what our account executives sell, the economy, and a lot of other factors. The rest of the time I travel all over the country. And I work a lot of hours. 60 hours is normal and it can go over 100 hours in a week. But I don't waste time commuting, and the important point is that I like to work, and those long hours are by choice most of the time. I could work less, even just 40 hours per week. But I rarely work on a weekend... I usually go hiking.

J. Lopes
(Jay_NJ) - F
environmental geologist on 11/07/2011 12:58:14 MST Print View

I am currently on the job hunt finishing up my M.S in geoscience and water resource management this December (job prospects are somewhat better than average). I've interned and will discuss that as it is related to most jobs I'm applying for in the tri-state area. Environmental geologists in the northeast tend to work mostly with EPA superfund sites and other construction/clean-up locations through outside engineering contractors. As entry level, we tend to mostly do soil, sediment, and groundwater sampling as well as oversee drilling and remediation. You are in the field quite a bit on average. I am trained in hydrogeological modelling and tend to incorporate more computer based work utilizing arc gis for spatial analysis & modflow for 3d modelling of groundwater flow.

A Bachelors in env. science, geology, hydrogeology, or engineering is usually the prereq. Masters is preferred; analytical thinking and a reasonable level of physical fitness helps. Geologists tend to be a jack of all trades on many levels.

As an intern it was around >60% field to deskwork. Mind you, these are often pretty nasty spots... a polluted former transit station, a old factory dumping ddts into a river, etc. With greater education and experience you often end up with more office time.

I will certainly be able to provide a better answer to this question when I am employed full-time (knocks on wood), though I think this is a pretty excellent career for getting outside.

Ankar Sheng
(Whiskyjack) - MLife

Locale: The Canadian Shield
Geologist/Geophysicist on 11/08/2011 18:21:00 MST Print View

Still in school working on a B.Sc Geology & Geophysics double honors degree. I'm focused on the resource exploration aspects. I spent last summer doing gold exploration up in northern Canada, I was out in the bush pretty much every day, boating and hiking around mapping outcrops and collecting soil & rock samples. It didn't really satisfy my lust for the outdoors though, I still had to go on my own hikes on my days off to get my fix. Next summer I'm aiming for an oil job, which would have a lot less field work, but a lot more money.

Previously I was a forest firefighter, which obviously has you working in the bush daily and pays very well considering you don't need any qualifications.

Whats important to me is a job that fascinates me, pays well and offers enough time off to actually enjoy what you earn. A lot of geology jobs offer 2 weeks on/2 weeks off type rotations and good salaries. I'm looking forward to going on vacation every month.

Paul Chang
(PaulGeo) - F
Geologist on 11/08/2011 19:05:57 MST Print View

Yes, I've been working as a Geologist for 22 years. Unfortunately as you get more experience and move up in salary, you do less field work and more office work. I try to get out to the field as often as I can... I would say about 30-40% my time is spent in the field. I have worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, Boeing, other public geotechnical and environmental firms, and now I work for a private environmental firm. I've been happy with my career choice... I certainly can't imagine sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen everyday.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
game warden on 11/08/2011 20:19:37 MST Print View

game warden

most states require a BS degree in wildlife or related field, additional experience in law enforcement is a big plus

if selected for testing you'll go through several written tests, a pretty demanding physical fitness test, series of interviews, session with a psychologist and a thorough background before getting hired- in your first year you'll go through a 12 week law enforcement academy and 8-10 weeks w/ a FTO (Field Training Officer)

they are looking for independent folks (you work almost exclusively alone) along with a good heaping of common sense :)

field wardens spend 85-90% time in the field, 10-15% behind a desk, if you advance up through the supervisory ranks that ratio starts shifting unfortunately :(

working outdoors in all seasons is pretty darn satisfying, sometimes things will become very political- those are generally less than satisfying

forecasts for landing a job in this field are probably the best they've been in 20+ years, while it's still competitive there are a lot more openings than there have been in the past

once hired the work is very stable, we rely solely on sportsman dollars there are no tax dollars involved so very low risk of getting laid off

pay is decent (but not great), benefits are very good

I can't think of many (any?) jobs that I'd trade for

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: IT... on 11/09/2011 09:25:23 MST Print View

Well yes, anyone who has worked in IT since the 90's knows what a ride it has been. My husband has seen the highs and lows. He has worked for companies that imploded, got merged and more. He has been working in Tech since the 90's.
The worst was watching WaMu circle the toilet in 2008 wondering how long his job would be there (he spent 5 years there). He got head hunted a month or so before WaMu went under, went to work for another company in GA and then that company failed in the spring of 2009 due to the recession. The company failed overnight and we had no idea what we'd do - Seattle was full of laid off Tech workers from...yep...WaMu. But my husband has been good at one thing his career - networking. In Tech out here you have to do it, all the time. If you get an invite to an event, you go. You never know where networking will take you! It landed my husband a job a month after being laid off (we were planning for at minimum a year out of work and trying to keep me insured). It was because he knew someone, who knew someone and so on. That job was a contract position and it led to full time within the group, of which my husband holds now. He was able to help a couple of his coworkers from the bank days (who were in his group) get new positions as well. Resumes are a kind of dead writing at this point - getting your foot in the door you have to know someone in the know. You have to have people who will vouch for your experience and work ethics. At least out here it is like that.

I am not bragging - the point is he didn't stay stagnant. He takes classes when offered, gets certifications when they come up. He goes to boring (to him) parties and events (he isn't very social). He knows he has to have his face out there to stay relevant! He knows the realistic thing is that his job will change yet again, nothing is permanent. Head hunters can be your friend.

Ironically my husband has had many trips to other countries with this job - to check up on the labor used there.So we are still relevant even when we use foreign labor. They do things we don't necessarily want to (although in the case of WaMu that wasn't so - they were bringing in so many cheap foeriegners to work...but that is a whole 'nother story)

But here is the rub - even jobs involving the outdoors are changing rapidly. The funding isn't there for state or federal ones, private industry has its own ethics and issues - especially with being funded and not failing. I don't think there is ANY industry that doesn't have issues or the fear of there not being jobs. Again, age is also a fixture - the young guy who is hungry will be more likely to work for $10-20K less a year (or more) or worse be willing to start at entry level in an outdoor related job! This makes him more likely to be hired.

And as for outdoor related jobs are you willing to actually make that much less?
In Tech jobs it is easy to make $60 to 125K a year (and $125 is just a a random number - I know many guys out here that pull in 150 or more, who work as DBA's). But in work related to the outdoors you could be looking at $30 to 60K at most. Are you willing to actually make that little?

I totally am open that my husband working in Tech is why I am a SAHM and can afford to not work outside the home - being paid good money can make a less than fun job worthwhile. The fantasy of another life can be less than fulfilling if suddenly you are living on a lot less!

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
BLM on 11/09/2011 10:31:16 MST Print View

Check out BLM job postings, there are many positions (most) that get employees outdoors for a majority of the work week. My father is an office manager for the local office here and he's outside weekly for the most random job tasks. On Monday he was paid to hike out to the Little Hatchet mtns in the bootheel of NM to check on a remote wildlife camera and check conditions on a water tank. Some weeks he is gone on wilderness fire fighting duties, other weeks they're tagging big horn sheep along the border, or riding ATVs out in the desert aiding in nonnative plant species eradication....the list goes on.

I've been looking for entry level job opportunities with them. The pay probably isn't as substantial as IT, but its not too difficult to make due with "very little".

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Education on 11/09/2011 12:21:08 MST Print View

Would you consider something like education? I know that teaching isn't outside, but then there are those two months of recovery you get in the summer.

While the pay isn't great, if you have a spouse to supplement your income, it can work with careful planning and budgeting. That, and it's really, really hard to do a good job teaching unwilling minds.

If you're interested at all, I'll gladly tell you more.

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Re: Education on 11/11/2011 06:52:23 MST Print View

Hi Clayton,

I would consider education. As a matter of fact, I am considering returning to school to get a Master's, PhD in biology or a closely related field to pursue college teaching as an option.

On that note, I am also considering getting a second bachelor's in environmental engineering, however I am concerned that I would face age discrimination in competing with relatively younger individuals for jobs. Actually, I'm already starting to experience age discrimination.

Gabriel Diaz
(freelancer) - F

Locale: South Florida
Trying to figure out how to use an AA in sociology... on 11/23/2011 16:52:59 MST Print View

I went back to school a couple of years ago and now, at almost 36 years old, I will be graduating late next summer. My AA will be in sociology. I had originally intended to go into the Peace Corps or other non-profit, but I am seeing how difficult it will be to get in there, even if I had a Bachelor's. Also, I am strongly reconsidering my field as a few isolated factors recently have made me shift to the outdoors again as my main interest - in fact, it feels like this is where I've belonged all this time, looking back on my life. An epiphany, maybe, but a late one.

I'm not sure what to do. I'm looking into FWC jobs and am more than willing to relocate (not a fan of South Florida, though I was born here). I was speaking to an officer last weekend, and he said that my best bet would be work as a seasonal employee, but that I had to live simply as the pay is usually around $35K for 6 months. Ha! I make $30K now for the whole year at a dead-end job working on marine hydraulics.

My real dream, of course, would be to find steady work as a freelance wildlife photographer. Steve Bloom is highly successful and he did it at around the same age or older, switching from another career. I'd have to be out there a lot more than I am now, shooting and shooting and hoping someone picks up on my work. But that's not a definite, and at this stage I think I need something more concrete. Combining my AA background with nature - humans in relation to the wilderness - may have possibilities, but I have just started thinking along these lines so have a lot more research to do.

Please excuse the rambling... This thread caught my eye for obvious reasons.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Re: Education on 11/29/2011 11:35:57 MST Print View

Chris, I'm sorry that it's taken me over two weeks to respond. My wife's family was in town, then we were out of town for the holidays, and then I picked up a bug in the airport and have been recovering for the past few days. Hopefully, though, this will help you some, especially after the long wait!

When I mentioned education, I had public school in mind, not necessarily higher-ed. So if this isn't what you are interested in, feel free to ignore most of the rest of this post. If it can't help you, then maybe it can help someone else.

Right now, a lot of states offer some kind of alternative certification, for those who have Bachelor's Degrees or higher, but no education degree. I went through one of those in my home state (Texas), and found it to be mostly a mixed bag. Your biggest hurdle will be getting a principal to take your application seriously. A lot of alternative certification candidates are less than serious about what they're doing or are only using it as some kind of back up if their career goes down. But, there are several people who are excellent teachers-in-waiting too. You just have to separate the wheat from the chaff.

My program, run through the state of Texas, took me 15 months to complete, 9 of those while working in a school district and having the program deduct a portion of my salary each month to pay for it. All in all, you can expect to pay around $5,000-6,000. It's a lot of money, but you pay the majority of it when you get a job.

One thing to keep in mind is to look for university-based certification programs. They count your work in the program towards a Master's Degree. Depending on your location, they may or may not have the best connection to actual districts; that's something you'll have to research for yourself.

Most states have some kind of reciprocity with each other, meaning that once you're certified, it's mostly a paperwork process to get it transferred to another state. You may have to take a different test to prove that you know your stuff, but otherwise it's much less of a hassle than getting started fresh.

This is where my story takes a dark turn. I didn't do the university-based route because I have a Master's in a different field, I just didn't see the point in earning more college hours. I also didn't tak that route because the key benefit of the program I was in was its close connections to local districts, thus providing networking to find a good job. I did everything, got certified, and had a great year teaching. Then my wife got offered a job in Montana (yes to backpacking!), but when I got here I found out that Montana is different than just about every other state. They ONLY want university-based certification (traditional or alternative) and since they won't recognize my program, they won't certify me. I found that out last week, so now I'm starting over too, and I'm not sure what to do short of re-doing all the stuff that I've done. So, we'll see.

I hope this helps. At least I can get outside while I'm unemployed right now!

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
welcome on 11/29/2011 12:52:28 MST Print View

well welcome to Montana nonetheless :)

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Live cheaply on 12/01/2011 10:56:43 MST Print View

Or live cheaply enough, and you can make pretty much anything work (very part time indoor work that lets you be outside as much as you want, low-paying outdoor jobs, self employment, whatever).

Says the happy poor woman from the yurt in Alaska, anyway. :)

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Trying to figure out how to use an AA in sociology... on 12/01/2011 20:50:32 MST Print View

... AA ...[in] Sociology ... Combining my AA background with nature - humans in relation to the wilderness - may have possibilities,..


Why not a "hoods in the woods" program, working with 'at risk' populations? Degree are great but even people with nerdy degrees sometimes work in human relations. One guy I knew had a mathematics degree but ending up working as a counselor at a youth prison since the Clinton era (when he could have been working in computers), and was last pursuing a Master's in Psychology.

You may also want to look into a B.A. in a techie field so you don't lose the hours you have. Just some options.

Gabriel Diaz
(freelancer) - F

Locale: South Florida
Hoods in The Woods on 12/01/2011 20:54:53 MST Print View

You know, that's a very interesting concept. Being from the 'hood myself (by original location, not really in spirit), a lot of these kids and I can relate. And I have been thinking of starting my own 501(c). Yes, definitely interesting, could lead to something. Thanks for the suggestion!