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Sport and Leisure - An Expanding Vocation

The leisure industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, fed by an expansion of people’s leisure time and spending. This industry needs skilled managers, and a growing number of postgraduate courses have developed to fulfil the leisure industry’s particular needs.

Sport is one of a number of diverse and expanding leisure industries that are assuming increasing importance in modern and developing economies. In the UK, leisure accounts for nearly 30% of total consumer spending, and has increased in importance to such an extent that a specialist government department (now called the Department of Culture, Media and Sport) has been created to oversee policy in the sector. The leisure sector is a heterogeneous group of industries, which includes not only sport, but also tourism, hospitality, entertainment, countryside recreation, the arts and heritage. Within each of these industries, there are a variety of skill requirements - for example, specialist sporting skills include sports science, physical education, coaching, sports development and sports management. The sport and leisure sector is also diverse in terms of ownership, with significant supply by commercial, charitable, public and voluntary sector providers in many countries.

Mirroring the rise in importance of the leisure industries, specialist courses in sport and leisure have developed in many universities in the last twenty years. As this type of course provision has matured, so postgraduate programmes have developed with the same focus. Reflecting the variety within the industry, there are a variety of postgraduate programmes on offer, developing an array of specialised skills and knowledge suited to working in the industry. However, many of the skills developed (such as applied management) are also transferable - useful across the diverse sport, leisure and cultural industries, and also across the expanding service sector, which accounts for over two-thirds of employment in the UK alone.

Sport and leisure are attractive mediums through which to study important skills such as management. They are multidisciplinary, contemporary, and involve basic human needs with which everyone can identify, such as self-expression, happiness and social interaction. Many postgraduate programmes in sport and leisure do not build on specifically relevant undergraduate qualifications; instead, they take graduates from a wide range of first degrees and ‘convert’ them to the vocational field of study at the same time as reaching postgraduate standard.

Many postgraduate programmes in sport and leisure are explicitly vocational, educating the sport and leisure managers and executives of the future. This vocationalism is embedded in programmes in a variety of ways. Some have industrial placements, where several weeks of practical experience can be related to the academic work. Other courses, such as an MSc in Sport and Recreation Management, MA Leisure Management, or MA Arts and Heritage Management make constant applications of academic principles to the industry in a variety of ways. On UK programmes, many of the assessments are reports written for actual sport and leisure industry organisations, and ‘live’ case-study work comprises planning and event management tasks for real organisations.

This vocationalism in sport and leisure postgraduate programmes is consistent with the needs of the industry. These needs were identified in a UK government-funded project on graduate recruitment and development in the sport and recreation industry, completed in 1998 by the National Training Organisation for Sport, Recreation and Allied Occupations (SPRITO), and the UK Higher Education Standing Conference on Leisure, Recreation and Sport (SCLRS). This project assessed the skills gained through education by sport and recreation graduates against those demanded by employers, particularly the small and medium sized enterprises that characterise the sport and leisure industry.

The SPRITO/SCLRS project gave a very clear message on sport and recreation employers’ requirements of graduates. Employers are looking at a range of qualities in graduate recruits, including technical/professional qualifications (such as first aid or coaching), relevant experience working in the industry; and personal skills (teamwork, IT, good communications skills), as well as appropriate academic qualifications. They are attracted by a more rounded graduate, not just the academic skilled.

The project findings endorse the vocationalism on postgraduate programmes in the UK. Some people entering such programmes will already have industrial experience, but for entrants straight from first degrees, the opportunities for such experience have been limited. British courses provide these opportunities within their vocational structure. In addition, another implication of the project findings is that sport and recreation students should seek extra-curricular opportunities for working in the industry, on a voluntary, temporary or part-time basis. Students should be increasingly interested in such work - not only because practical experience is important to complement their academic achievements, but also out of financial necessity.

The SPRITO/SCLRS project found that sport and recreation graduates have clear attributes which include not only the usual transferable skills associated with graduates, but also the complementary technical/professional qualifications and practical experience demanded by employers, typically picked up outside their studies. However, students need to improve their promotion of these attributes, and their job search and application skills also need improving. To expect employers to instantly acknowledge the sport and recreation graduate’s employability is making a false assumption.

It would be easy to overstate the problems of graduate employment in the sport and recreation industry. The ‘bottom line’ of graduate employment is very good, with 55% (including teaching) finding jobs in the industry, the rest finding jobs in a variety of others industries. For postgraduates, the employment record is better, because they are more likely to have chosen a particular career pathway. Industry and higher education preparation, however, are still relatively immature compared to more established industries and professions. Nevertheless, the tide is turning, and leisure is a growth industry with a future – and as a career choice, there are not many industries you can say that about with certainty!

Peter Taylor
Professor of Leisure Management
University of Sheffield, UK


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