Wilderness and nature guide degree is formed from five parts.
This degree and Finland’s whole vocational education system will go through a drastic change in the following years so if you stumble upon this article significantly later than August of 2017, keep in mind that stuff have most likely changed.
People often talk about the wilderness guide degree but the official name is wilderness and nature guide. So after graduation we can also work as nature guides.
Sometimes people finish a wilderness guide school but don’t graduate as guides.
In these occasions a person has participated in some sort of a training but hasn’t completed the vocational parts. They might be excellent hikers or trekkers but they can’t call themselves guides.
Sometimes people are wilderness and nature guides yet haven’t gone to wilderness guide school.
You can also become a wilderness and nature guide by completing separate exams without having to actually sit in class. If you consider this sort of approach, I urge you to study the qualifications carefully and not forget to dive into the document and bureaucratic side of things (safety plans, product cards, marketing materials).
There are other titles in nature and travel industry and some can even be self-invented. This is usually purely for marketing purposes or, unfortunately sometimes to hide the fact that they don’t actually have a degree at all.
In September when I graduate, I hope to have all the necessary exams completed to call myself a proper wilderness and nature guide!
Vocational examination, parts 1 + 4
First you study the basics. This includes summer and winter hikes and their respective plans, species exams and other nature assignments.
The basics are the most known part of the degree and in addition to the hikes, they also include basic survival skills.
In my studies this portion is considered completed once you do all the assigned tasks and pass the hikes with flying colors.
In addition to the basics, there are four other exams,
Optional examinations you need to choose four from:
Optional exams have a variety of things guides can do in their work life. They have the following options:
- Guiding people to walk among nature
- Arranging animal program services
- Organizing motorized nature programs
- Being a wilderness and nature guide entrepreneur
- Guidance based on nature knowledge
- Organizing wilderness and outdoor meal services
- Nature guidance based on culture and wilderness heritage
- Nature guidance based on special skills
- Organizing themed nature guide services
- Guiding special needs groups in the wild
- Being a hunting guide
- Guiding international customers in the wild
One completes these by arranging an exam where you invite customers. Someone, usually a wilderness guide, evaluates the exam and rates particulars and the entirety of it.
So how am I doing so far?
I’ve had my practical skills tested in summer and winter hikes and I’ve aced them all. Preceding both hikes was a ton of paper work with safety plans and product cards.
Safety and CPR are a vital part of the degree. You’d be surprised how many different things you need to consider when you’re outdoors with a group.
During the studies you need to get your First Aid card or if you already have one, it needs to be valid. I also got my Travel Industry Safety Pass.
I still have a few species identification exams to go.
That is to say I’m missing the ones that can’t run away but mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds are already done in the spring of 2017.
Plants, mushrooms, lichen, fungi and mushrooms are still ahead this Fall and while I’m at it, I’ll be returning the presentation video I made while I was in Lapland.
Mandatory studies include 250 species in total so I’ve had my share of reading and hitting the books – especially with birds.
But I think I’ve handled the mandatory sections pretty well.
Optional classes on the other hand are halfway there. One was an outdoor meal class and the other is part of the National Park Ranger certificate! So two more to go.
I think guiding special needs groups or international customers would suit me perfectly. We’ll see once school’s back in session.
In addition to these I’ve planned to complete the only written exam by covering wilderness guide entrepreneurship and making a proper business plan for it.
My school is located in Jämsänkoski and this and a few other schools arrange classes in a way that you can partake even if you have a day job. I wasn’t a full time student until spring and before that I used up my vacation days. It’s not so much a break from working life but more like a week here and there.
Would this degree suit you?
It suits everyone, to be honest – everyone who’s looking for their place in the wild and want to utilize their outdoor skills or learn more.
If you like the outdoors and know how to dress properly: trust me, this is pretty essential.
If you’re prepared to have a little less money and successful entrepreneurship requires successful marketing and long hours on-season. If you’re willing to work on the side.
It’s not sensible to waste the resources of society and learning institutions if you’re only looking for tips and tricks for yourself. I mean, I suppose that’s a reason for some people but…
You see, there are always different hobbies you can try out. The fees are relatively small when you compare them to a year’s worth of tuitions.
Make sure you’re in moderate physical condition. You’re responsible of your group and you can’t be the first to keel over. The hikes I’ve been on have all been manageable but that’s not the case all the time.
Learn to sleep in a tent way before school starts.
A good personality and brisk delivery help with marketing.
Managing your temperament is also one of the keys to success here, plus a good customer service attitude and flexibility. Sometimes people do things they shouldn’t, in a way that’s not productive etc. Keep your cool and educate your group.
When people in your group act stupid or mean, keep your trap shut and don’t badmouth them all over social media. Learn from it.
You probably know better whether you’re suited to be a wilderness guide or not. Entrepreneurship offers all kinds of possibilities and new products and ideas.
The classic question: how’s the job market for guides?
(Prepare to answer this question every single time people find out you’re studying to be a wilderness and nature guide.)
Yes and no.
Ready-made positions exist almost solely in the North and all of them rely on seasonal events.
Found your own company!
Consider your own know-how and skills. What is it you have to offer your customers? Can you create your own brand? Are you an avid nature photographer or can you cook amazing outdoor meals?
The beginning can be a rocky one, especially if this is your only source of income. Entrepreneurs can easily fall off the grid.
Pricing is key.
Even with startup money, please do yourself a favor and price yourself properly. Otherwise you need to increase your prices after the money runs our and with lower prices at the start, you’re creating an unfair advantage in the market.
More info on the mandatory classes:
Wilderness and nature guide must master the following things:
- Survival skills
- Utilizing equipment and gear
- Taking care of safety
- Being a guide and leader to a group of customers
Wilderness and nature guide must be able to apply the following skills:
- Applying knowledge of nature and outdoors
- Productization of service
- Customer service
Wilderness and nature guide must be able to maintain sustainable development in the following ways:
- Following rules and regulations
- Taking action according to sustainable development
- Developing activity
- Building liaisons