A £10bn-a-year industry in the UK alone, leisure encompasses career opportunities from heritage sites and libraries to tourism and sport

Leisure is a service industry, which means you have to be able to deal with people and provide a service to them. Just because you enjoy playing sport, for example, doesn't mean you will be able to provide a service to other people wanting to play sport!

How to get started

The Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management (ILAM) is the organisation that represents every aspect of the leisure management industry. It states that there are a great variety of starting points for a career in leisure:

  • From school, aged 16-17, with some academic qualifications
  • From school or college, aged 18-19, with A-levels or Scottish Highers
  • From college, aged 18-20, with a vocational qualification
  • From higher education, with an HND or degree qualification
  • From higher education, with a postgraduate qualification
  • From another career, with relevant experience and skills

Progression pathways

The leisure industry has become extremely popular as a career destination but many potential students are confused by the variety of leisure-related courses and/or careers. This is because there has been spectacular growth in the range of leisure management courses and career opportunities. Finding the right degree amongst so many courses can be very difficult, but Bacon and Buswell (2000) have offered some guidelines to help:

  • Find out about the links between the academic institution and practitioners, particularly in the design of the course
  • Check out the professional activities of the course tutors. Ask how many of them are familiar with the latest developments in the leisure industry and whether they have a network of professional contacts who can help you
  • Find a course that suits your needs and learning style. Most courses have work placements, although there are some excellent courses without a placement that use their industrial contacts in other ways, such as project management. If you wish to do a placement, find out how the institution manages the placement. The type of placement varies greatly ­ at the University of Brighton, for example, students work in places as diverse as local cycling and outward bound centres to Champneys Health Club in Piccadilly, London
  • Make sure that the course addresses relevant disciplines such as marketing, finance, operational management and customer service
  • Find out about opportunities that may permit you to specialise in areas such as arts and entertainment management, or countryside management
  • Courses are assessed through essays, management reports, oral presentations, simulations, project management for actual clients, skills portfolios, exams and a number of other means. A good degree will use all of these to extend skills range

Graduate prospects

In 1998, the first comprehensive survey of graduate recruitment and development in the sport and recreation industry was published. Here are some of the findings:

  • Students who have undertaken work placements are more aware of their own skills and attributes
  • Students tend to overestimate the level at which they are likely to enter the industry, believing themselves to be competent in positions that traditionally require between three and seven years of industry experience
  • During their degree, 50 per cent of respondents gain at least one governing body coaching award (18 per cent gain at least three)
  • For the graduates surveyed, local authorities are the largest employers (38.4 per cent of respondents), education is next (27.5 per cent) and large commercial organisations follow (14.3 per cent)
  • Graduates agree that acquiring a range of transferable skills enhances "employability", either inside or outside the sport and recreation industries (Taylor et. al, 1998; 14-18)


Working in leisure management requires you to demonstrate a commitment to your own personal and professional development. These skills are vital to management, administration and a range of other work where people are involved:

Intellectual and problem-solving skillsResearch, analysis and synthesising of complex information. Planning, thinking and innovating

Communication skillsWritten communication; verbal communication; discussion with colleagues and tutors

Interpersonal skillsWorking with others; negotiation, team building, assertiveness

Management and administrative skillsYou will have organised and managed projects as part of your course. As a student, you will have developed skills in self-management, time-management, decision-making, and working independently and with others

Self presentation skillsYou will have presented your findings to staff and colleagues during your course

Numerical skillsYou will have used numerical information accurately and creatively in management-based modules and in the analysis of a wide variety of experimental situations

AdaptabilityThroughout your studies, you will have become used to handling some unexpected and difficult situations. The range of study and variation in teaching and assessment styles will have developed within you a certain degree of flexibility

Instructional skillsAny coaching, training or curriculum modules will have developed skills in instruction, explanation and an understanding of the learning process. These may have also developed skills in advice-giving and persuasion

Computing skillsFamiliarisation with the scope and use of IT is an integral element of most jobs nowadays. You will have word processed your assignments and used other software ­ spreadsheets, for example ­ in addition to using the internet for research.

Having recognised the skills you have to offer, you will need to analyse any job or course in terms of the skills required. Only then can you begin to match the work to the skills you know you possess. It would also be wise to consider the evidence for asserting that you have gained these skills, so that you can promote them in your applications and in your interviews.

For further information:

Visit the ILAM website at: www.ilam.co.uk and download the free advice booklets on courses in leisure management and career opportunities in leisure management


Bacon, W. & Buswell, J. (2000) UK Directory of Leisure Courses, ILAM, Reading

Taylor, P. Minten, S & Hanson, A (1998) Graduate Employment in the Sport and Recreation Industry: a study of student, graduate and employer perspectives, UK HE Standing Conference on Leisure, Recreation and Sport & SPRITO