My Land’s Edge trainee experience – why a workplace traineeship was right for me
It’s rare in life, I think, to have one of those A-ha moments – one of those times when you think to yourself okay, it all seems worth it now because of this!
It was late in school Term 1, a very busy time for Land’s Edge Foundation , and I had just started working my third back-to-back school camp program. At this point I was pretty exhausted, and the prospect of now being responsible for 15 year 8 boys was daunting to say the least. It was a few days into the program and the first activity for the day was a sunrise beach fishing session. After somehow successfully wrangling 15 very tired and at times obstinate boys out of their tents, fed, packed and ready for the day all before 6am, I felt like I had basically climbed Mt. Everest – or I should say Mt. Kosciuszko (which I did actually end up climbing as part of my training, but I’ll get into that a bit later). As I sunk my feet into the cool sand of Racecourse Beach early that morning and watched the boys cast their lines into the ocean, a rare moment for self reflection presented itself. With nature at its best, creating a beautiful sunrise as a backdrop to the morning’s activity, I couldn’t help but turn to the other group leaders, with a tinge of disbelief and a wealth of gratitude in my voice, and say
“ Are we really getting paid to do this?! How great is this”.
How did I get here?
To be honest, I was initially hesitant to apply for the traineeship. I had a skewed perspective on traineeships, thinking that they were only for ‘young’ people fresh out of high school. Being 28 at the time, I didn’t think I would be hired based on my age. Turns out, that’s completely false. The fact that Land’s Edge hired two 28 year olds proves that age doesn’t really factor into their recruitment process, it’s all about bringing like-minded people together with a shared passion for the outdoors.
Before applying for this traineeship I completed two university degrees, a bachelor of media and communication studies and a master of public health. When people ask about my past and what led me to a traineeship with Land’s Edge, the majority are surprised by my background and are a little confused by my seemingly random career trajectory. I’ll admit that my past experience and studies are a little random, but there is a method to my madness. I majored in marketing and advertising in my undergraduate degree, and while I loved the creativity side of marketing I knew I wanted to focus on social marketing – promoting products and activities that are going to make people healthier and happier. This was my new goal.
I was lucky enough to be accepted into a master of public health, where I majored in health promotion. This degree really opened my eyes and led me to where I am today. After completing my masters degree I knew I wanted to focus my career path on engaging youth in positive health and wellbeing practices. After many failed attempts at getting the jobs I wanted, I knew I needed to refocus my energy on gaining skills in an area I knew I was lacking – practical hands-on experience working on youth programs. I guess, from the outside looking in, my career path over the last few years does seem unclear, but what it actually reflects is my need to follow my passions in life. Each experience I’ve had, every job and study opportunity, has been driven by my want to work with like-minded people doing important work.
The application process for this traineeship was very simple and straightforward. Filling out the ‘expression of interest’ form didn’t take up too much time, which is always handy when you’re on the job hunt and you’re spending a large portion of your day filling in job applications – I’ve done so many I must be at pro status by now.
The people at Land’s Edge definitely make a good first impression. I was a little nervous going into the information session, but everyone was so welcoming and because our first meeting was in a relaxed group setting I felt like it was easier to make a good first impression. The positive workplace culture was evident to me right from the very start. A lot of organisations, big and small, claim that they’re ‘not a hierarchy and everyone is treated at the same level’ – but very few actually reflect this in the management of their staff. Land’s Edge never felt like anything but a close, eclectic little family and I love that.
Throwing us in the deep end (literally)
Less than a week after sign-up and induction we jumped straight into Saltwater School, our first training block. We spent 10 days learning about some of the main coastal activities offered by Land’s Edge. We completed 4 days of snorkelling, 3 days of Stand-up Paddleboarding and 3 days of surfing, with some surf rescue and APOLA (Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association) training thrown in there for good measure – it was a long and informative 10 days.
We started our training up in Chowder Bay, on Sydney Harbour foreshore, for some in-depth snorkelling training and ecosystem studies. Chowder Bay is stunning. Arriving there was another, wow, I get to work here? kind-of moment. I think one of the standouts for me during this training block was the fact we got to meet and learn from the founders of the organisation, Ant and Fleur. With decades of outdoor education industry experience between them, it was such a great opportunity to learn from the very best. The passion that everyone at Land’s Edge has for educating people about the natural world is unrivalled – with respecting and protecting the environment at the forefront of everything they do.
Our Saltwater training took us further down the south coast later on that week, where we learned to surf and perform basic surf rescues on the stunning Seven Mile Beach, and was taught how to run a stand-up paddleboarding session along the Minnamurra River. It ended up being quite a challenging time for me, as I had to learn all the basic activity skills from scratch as well as take in the associated theory and group briefing techniques. But that’s the thing about this traineeship, you don’t have to be a skilled outdoor adventurer before you start, that’s not really what they’re looking for.
At the end of Saltwater School I sat down with Ant, one of the founders of Land’s Edge, explaining to him how concerned I was that I had never been surfing or stand-up paddleboarding before, thinking my inexperience would hold me back. Ant went on to explain to me that all of these skills can be learned, Land’s Edge can teach me with little difficulty. What they are looking for in the trainees is something that can’t as easily be taught. I came out of this conversation with a new perspective on what the next period of time in this traineeship would be like. I was too busy focusing on learning these practical activity-based skills that I almost didn’t realise what I was learning about myself – this self-connection would ultimately be my greatest takeaway.
Nature, community and self – strengthening connection in the outdoors
The great thing about workplace traineeships is gaining practical skill development, something that you won’t as easily get completing your standard TAFE or university course. At Land’s Edge, you’re immersed in training from the very beginning, developing skills that you will then use with clients out in the field. After a short Christmas break we were thrown into a very busy few months.
Coastal Explorer, a bi-product of Land’s Edge collaborative brainstorming efforts during 2020 covid times, is a program run during the school holidays that offers guided outdoor coastal experiences to the general public. As trainees, we got to assist in running these coastal experiences in Chowder Bay, Gerroa and Kiama Harbour, developing our skills in briefing clients and conducting activities such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing and snorkelling. It was great to come straight out of Saltwater School and into Coastal Explorer where we could put into practice the activity skills we learned and start to develop our communication and safety management skills with clients in real world scenarios instead of just mock training exercises. Something that myself and most of the other trainees commented on at some point during our time together was that we never really felt like we were ‘studying’. I had spent close to 6 years prior to this traineeship completing two university degrees with mostly theory-based curriculum. It wasn’t until I completed those degrees and stepped out of the university and into the real world that I got to experience what it was like to actually work in those fields – you do learn more by doing.
Land’s Edge is great at skill development, but equally excels in creating an environment conducive to personal development. Having key staff act as mentors during this time has been invaluable. Our second 10 day training block, Educating Outdoors, involved an expedition across the Kosciuszko main range and up to the peak of Mt. Kosciuszko, as well as a few days in the stunning Murramarang National Park and surrounds. This training block allowed us to visit the locations where Land’s Edge runs many of their programs while learning specific skills in campcraft, bushwalking, navigation, weather triggers, group management and communication systems. We were lucky enough to be led through this training by a few of the organisation’s core staff, including Ant and Steve who have been with Land’s Edge since its creation. With decades of industry experience between them, Ant and Steve not only shared their working knowledge of these areas with us, but shaped what we know about outdoor education and showed us the importance of this industry to young people as well as the value it holds in our society.
There’s nothing more valuable than learning from other peoples experiences while creating your own memories and making your own mistakes – adversity can teach you a lot about yourself as well as the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the outdoors. During this training block not much went to plan. Weather played havoc on our schedule as intense wind pushed us off the main range, with our plan B also changing due to fires in the area. As our plan C contingency took shape and we saw ourselves hunkered down at a friend of the organisation’s farm for a few days, it became clear that this trip was going to show me what it really takes to be an effective leader in the outdoors. I think I can speak for the other trainees when I say this trip was a real bonding experience for all of us. Huddled together in a shed, sheltered from the rain on a property in the Snowy Mountains, Ant taught us what I now see as the three pillars of outdoor education; nature, community and self. This experience taught us the importance of outdoor education to young people and how, as outdoor leaders, we can strengthen their connections with nature, social connections with society and their community, as well as their connections to themselves. At the same time, I think these teachings became relevant to us and our own lives, because being a true advocate of outdoor education requires you to hold a solid grasp of those same qualities you are trying to instill in the young people that come and experience Land’s Edge programs.
Term 1 – all hands on deck
At times it was intimidating being put into situations that we didn’t think we were 100% ready for. The start of school term 1 in early February meant the start of a busy time for Land’s Edge – all hands on deck. It became apparent early on in the traineeship experience that self management and regulating your emotions when faced with challenging situations was going to be a necessary skill during times when we would be out in the field supporting a group. Initially, all the trainees were paired with experienced group leaders to assist in group management of the school students during multi-day camps, but we were soon pulled into more programs and given more responsibility as it got busier for the organisation. I think it is important to note here that, even though this was (for me) the most challenging period of the traineeship, it was also the most rewarding. Some of my best memories happened while interacting with the students on a program.
When a school comes to us to run an outdoor education program for their students, one of the major student outcomes is building resilience and confidence, forged in challenging and dynamic environments. As an outdoor educator you are constantly faced with challenging situations in harsh environments, relying on your competency in nature and your leadership skills to get through anything. Working in these environments builds resilience and self-belief. As outdoor leadership trainees we are learning to safely take young people into these environments and support their development of the same skills. By spending the last 6 months training to support young people to thrive in these types of environments and learning the necessary skills to support fun and engaging experiences in the outdoors, it is us too that have been thriving and growing.
I feel lucky to have shared this experience with 11 of the most remarkable people. I have not only gained a qualification in outdoor leadership and been taken on as a full-time employee by the organisation, but have made some lifelong connections with people that will attest to the incredible impact this traineeship has had on our lives. Our experiences over the past 7 months will continue to shape how we see the world and I’m so excited to welcome new trainees to the Land’s Edge family in the coming months – we’re ready when you are!
For more information on our outdoor leadership trainee programme visit our website www.landsedge.com.au/traineeships/