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Outdoor Jobs: Careers That Take You Beyond the Cubicle

These professions get you outside the office – at all salary and education levels.

Outdoor Jobs: Careers That Take You Beyond the Cubicle

by Rebecca Koenig, US News

Cubicle life isn't for everyone. If the prospect of sitting at the same desk every day makes you squirm, you may be better suited to a job you can perform outside. Outdoor careers span several industries, including construction, recreation and energy production. While some professions, such as science jobs, take workers beyond laboratories to collect data in the field, others, like agriculture careers, involve plenty of time out in the fresh air. Read on to learn about the benefits and challenges of working out in the elements, where to find outdoor jobs and the different types of opportunities available. (Note: Wage and preparation data are from Career Kokua's Occupations Information File.)

The Benefits of Outdoor Careers

Jessica Gold's first job out of college, at a content marking firm in Boston, had her stuck at a desk for a typical 9-to-5 workday.

"I hated being inside that long," she says. "What I really wanted to do was be an outdoor guide."

After moving to Colorado, she achieved that goal, leading camps and wilderness therapy groups on treks through the state's mountains, and also on journeys in North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest. By working beyond the walls of an office, "I was so much happier," she says.

Escaping the drab confines of office life for the stimulation and physical freedom of the outdoors makes many people happier. The mood-boosting effects are even greater in green spaces like parts or grasslands, according to research published in 2015 from Stanford University that found spending time in nature could lower risks of depression.

Outdoor jobs also teach skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, risk management, flexibility and logistics planning.

The Challenges of Outdoor Careers

Outdoor labor changes with the area's weather conditions. Workers in some regions have to contend with intense heat or cold, or precipitation, which can disrupt their plans and threaten their health.

"Whether we have rain or snow, we have to find ways to maintain the building schedule," says Pasco Umbriac, construction executive with Clark Construction Group in the District of Columbia. "We have to take care of ourselves because we're out in the environment all the time."

Coupled with inclement weather, the physical labor required of many outdoor jobs can make those professions hazardous. Agriculture, recreation, landscaping and construction workers have higher rates of occupational injuries or illnesses than the average worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On one wilderness trip, for example, Gold broke bones in her hands and was stuck at home recovering for two-and-a-half months.

Some outdoor jobs are also seasonal. That means workers may have to move every few months to find work, and they don't receive benefits such as health insurance through their employers. Because of the seasonality, "it's hard to have a stable life,” Gold says. She is now pursuing a doctorate in sociology. "I didn't live in one place for more than nine months."

Finding Work Outside

Some industries have specialized group email lists or job advertisement websites that provide information about outdoor job opportunities, and labor unions may also help skilled tradespeople find work.

California regions rank high among places with plentiful outdoor career opportunities. The following 10 metropolitan areas have the most advertisements for outdoor jobs on ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace: Los Angeles; Atlanta; Chicago; San Francisco; New York City; Houston; Dallas; Seattle; Riverside-San Bernardino, California; and Boston.

Recreation Jobs

Recreation workers help make the great outdoors accessible for people to enjoy. They labor at golf courses, pools, beaches, ski resorts, parks, camps and sports fields.

Though they facilitate fun, their work is serious business. It requires strong people skills and a devotion to safety. For example, Gold had to complete extensive first-responder training to learn how to assess environmental risks and treat illness and injuries in the field.

"Working in the outdoors, especially guiding, isn't for everyone who just likes being outside. It's a customer service job," Gold says. "Patience is really big."

Jobs in the industry include:

  • Recreation Workers: Median salary: $26,600 | Education required: high school degree
  • Coaches and Scouts: Median salary: $51,090 | Education required: bachelor's degree
  • Recreational Therapists: Median salary: $46,780 | Education required: bachelor's degree

Energy jobs

We owe the power we rely on to complete daily tasks to workers who process energy sources. There's high demand for workers in clean energy industries such as wind and solar. These workers need strength and endurance for physical labor, keen attention to detail and the ability to troubleshoot when problems arise.

  • Wind Turbine Technicians: Median salary: $52,260 | Education required: associate degree or training certificate
  • Solar Panel Installers: Median salary: $50,240 | Education required: high school degree and associate degree or training certificate
  • Line Installers and Repairers: Median salary: $86,090 | Education required: high school degree

Agriculture and Forestry Jobs

Plants and animals take center stage in these careers, which focus on producing food and other useful goods consumers need. Agriculture and forestry job opportunities are available for people who have a wide range of educational backgrounds, from no degrees to advanced doctorate degrees. Workers should be dexterous with their hands, have physical strength and stamina and be good communicators.

  • Farmers and Farm Managers: Median salary: $66,360 | Education required: high school degree
  • Commercial Fishers: Median salary: $27,110 | Education required: none
  • Veterinarians: Median salary: $184,350 | Education required: doctorate
  • Veterinary Technologists and Technicians: Median salary: $31,970 | Education required: associate degree
  • Agricultural Scientists: Median salary: $61,140 | Education required: bachelor's degree
  • Conservation Scientists: Median salary: $70,890 | Education required: bachelor's degree

Building and Maintenance Jobs

According to Umbriac, construction draws on workers with a wide range of skills and educational backgrounds, from laborers who move materials to skilled tradespeople who weld and install pipes to managers who schedule and supervise work.

"Regardless of the position you're in, having good communication skills is really key," he says. "It's keeping everyone informed of what's going on because there's so much happening at once."

A collaborative spirit is also important, since construction projects require many hands. "You have to have a strong desire to want to deal with people all the time," he says. "It brings me a lot of joy to see how we get several hundred people to work together."

  • Construction Managers: Median salary: $94,290 | Education required: bachelor's degree
  • Landscapers and Groundskeepers: Median salary: $29,820 | Education required: some jobs require certifications and licenses for working with pesticides and fertilizers
  • Surveyors: Median salary: $58,150 | Education required: bachelor's degree
  • Civil Engineers: Median salary: $79,970 | Education required: bachelor's degree
  • Structural Metal Workers: Median salary: $73,300 | Education required: high school degree
  • Bricklayers and Stonemasons: Median salary: $58,790 | Education required: high school degree and apprenticeship
  • Cement Masons: Median salary: $66,540 | Education required: high school degree and apprenticeship

Science Jobs

Science-focused jobs allow workers to pair analytical skills with curiosity about and love for the natural world. In addition to studying the environment, some of these workers help protect it, too. These professionals should be observant, good problem-solvers, strong communicators and should possess quantitative skills.

  • Archaeologists: Median salary: $64,990 | Education required: master’s degree
  • Environmental Scientists: Median salary: $63,540 | Education required: bachelor's degree
  • Environmental Engineers: Median salary: $84,300 | Education required: bachelor's degree
  • Zoologists: Median salary: $70,960 | Education required: bachelor's degree

Social Services Jobs

If serving the community while spending lots of time outside sounds like an ideal combination, a profession in the social services industry may appeal to you. Most of them are government positions, which makes them more stable than many other outdoor professions. Courage and compassion are critical skills for these workers, who often find themselves aiding others who are in danger.

  • Emergency Medical Technicians: Median salary: $50,000 | Education required: post-secondary certifications
  • Firefighters: Median salary: $55,170 | Education required: post-secondary certifications
  • Police Patrol Officers: Median salary: $70,460 | Education required: post-secondary training

08.09.18

Posted: August 9, 2018 @ 3:36 PM HST


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