Our role as adventure guides doesn’t change as we progress; it’s the expectations placed on us that change as our training, skills and experiences increase within each of the competency areas.
There are many ways to achieve this combination of training and experience, including college and university programs, certification courses, in the field experience with more experienced guides and professional development opportunities.
Our approach is to match new guides with simple itineraries in low-risk terrain. Simplifying all aspects of the tour allows us to spend less energy on decision-making so that we can focus on the guest experience instead.
Progressing to guiding more complex itineraries requires learning new skills, refining them through experience and demonstrating how we can apply them in a variety of conditions.
This is how it looks in practice.
Taking a course is a great starting point on our way to learning new skills. Courses can take many forms but the structured learning environment they provide is often beneficial when we are introduced to new concepts.
Many courses also include a certification validating that the minimum standards have been met.
Experience with a Mentor
Once we have completed training it’s time to gain experience. Getting time in the field guiding tours helps refine the skills, but can also reinforce bad habits we develop along the way. Working with a mentor, or with peers, has the benefits of having someone to discuss challenges we encounter, learn from our mentor’s experiences, and reflect on what is working well and what needs improvement.
This takes us from merely going through repetitions to learning from our experiences.
Pushing our limits
Practicing our skills outside of work has the benefit of not having to be responsible for guests, allowing us to practice in more complex situations than when we’re guiding. This provides us with the comfort level we need to experiment with new ideas before we take them back to our guiding environment.
In the field assessments have a lot of advantages over traditional evaluations done during training courses. First, they allow us to showcase how we can apply the knowledge we have gained rather than testing our short-term memorization skills. More importantly, they provide a real-world and ongoing assessment of the skills rather than a staged performance.
Assessments and certifications are not the goal but only benchmarks on the path to lifelong learning.
A Paradigm Shift
This is the approach used in sports where coaching certifications are now issued based on the observations made by mentors working with the coaches in a variety of situations.
Unfortunately, we have yet to see a formal implementation of this approach in the outdoors where certifications are still typically issued based on attendance or tests completed during training courses.
The Field Leader Certification from the Outdoor Council of Canada is an exception, providing us with the flexibility to do assessments based on observed performance instead of the standard exam completed during the course.
We are working on refining our guide assessment criteria used to determine which tours guides are ready to facilitate. This tool will also help in identifying professional development opportunities for our team.