Census 2011: Which industry do you work in?

After having just completing my census commitments for the next five years, I was forced to (yet again) think hard about what “industry” I work in. Granted, on this occasion there wasn’t much choice.  Health service and community care service industries were the closest fit, but it was “other – please specify” for me again.

This seems to be a common occurrence these days, regardless of what survey, application or form I am filling out at the time. As I work in a Council owned and managed leisure facility, sometimes I select “Local Government” (which excludes a significant percentage of Recreation Professionals), not because this is the correct answer, but because it is usually the closest fit. Sometimes “sport” is the closest option, as people undertake sport activities in the facility I work in, but seeing as though our industry doesn’t get any access to the national sport budget I don’t like selecting that option. But quite frankly, I am sick of ticking “Other”.

Where is the “recreation” industry box? Surely we are a significant enough industry to warrant our own box.

In fact, there are over 50,000 people employed through the 1,900 odd leisure facilities around Australia. There is also an extensive amount of commercial suppliers that supply to our industry, which attracts in approximately 263 million visitations per year nationally. All this contributes to an estimated turnover in excess of 1.3 billion dollars per year. Our industry is part of the “active recreation” sector and employs many highly skilled and passionate individuals, impacting positively on the lives of millions.

This was best illustrated a few months ago when I was at a seminar on insurance and risk management for swimming pools. The speaker referred to the fact that although he had been working in insurance for 25 years he had only been working in Aquatics and Recreation Risk Management for three years. When he was first asked by his boss to take on the portfolio he though it would be a great junket to be able to drive around the pools and recreation centres and watch customers having a great time.

He decided the best approach would be to stay in one pool for a few days in order to better understand the risk management environment in which Pool Managers operate. After three days of observing all the risk elements that are a routine part of each day he decided there was no way that he would ever choose to be a Pool Manager. After he got over the initial shock, he developed a great respect for Pool Managers and the tough job they performed from a risk perspective.

Similarly, another speaker I heard at a conference last year stated that he was amazed at the range of skills of the aquatic and recreation facilities managers he had observed. He listed the following (I actually got his speaker notes): Risk Manager, HR Manager, Industrial Relations Manager, Technical Operations Manager, Hydrological Technician, Mentor, Counsellor, Marketing Specialist, Recruitment Specialist, Chemist, Sports Administrator, Diplomat and Politician. That is where his list ended and I am sure we could all add a few more.

So why is it that an industry that employs so many talented and multi-skilled people that impact positively on the lives of millions appears invisible at times and struggles to get the recognition it deserves? I am not just talking about a box on a form or recognition for Recreation Practitioners, but recognition for the important role that leisure facilities play in developing health, well-being and communities. It is our customers that are ultimately being short-changed through the lack of recognition that the industry receives and this needs to change.

To assist in making this change, ALFA will be undertaking some key initiatives in the coming months that will focus on raising the profile of the industry and gaining greater recognition for what the industry achieves as a means toward creating influence to achieve better outcomes for the industry. We aren’t expecting overnight miracles, but we will continue to plug away for the betterment of the industry as a whole.

Do you agree that the industry is not getting the recognition it deserves? Tell us about it in the comments below…

Gary Penfold

Gary Penfold (Manager of Warringah Aquatic Centre) has worked in the Recreation Industry since 1980 in a range of areas including Sports Development, Dry Facility Management, Special Events and Aquatic Facility Management. Gary has contributed to the development of the industry through various voluntary roles during this time, including: ARI NSW Executive Committee, ARI Training Committee, National Water Safety Council, ARI Conference and Magazine committees. A former ARI President for three years, Gary Penfold currently holds the position of Chair of ALFA.

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