Fun in the Sun: Summer Recreation Jobs in Oregon

by Kale Donnelly

July 23, 2018

As the sun starts to shine and the temperatures begin to climb you’ll find many Oregonians and out-of-state visitors taking advantage of the countless summer activities and outdoor amenities that the state has to offer. Whether it be kayaking the Columbia Gorge, playing the front nine of Bandon Dunes, or simply taking the kids to the local pool, you can bet that people will be soaking up the rays while the summer months are here. Along with the taste for fun in the sun comes the summer recreational workers who aim to make the experience simple and enjoyable for everyone.

That’s a Lot of Golf!

If you think of summer recreation occupations, I’m sure what comes to mind is something to the tune of raft guides, caddies, lifeguards, recreation coordinators, and many more. Given the similar scope of duties amongst these summer recreation jobs, they’re typically categorized in the following occupations being used in this article’s analysis:

  • Amusement and Recreation Attendants
  • Entertainment Attendants and Related Workers, All Other
  • Tour Guides and Escorts
  • Travel Guides
  • Recreation Workers
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to include lifeguards since their occupational classification is shared with Oregon’s ski lift operators. Those folks seem a little out of place in an article that deals with summer recreation jobs, don’t they?

Employment in summer recreation occupations accounts for a small chunk of the employment in service occupations – roughly 2.5 percent. Their share of total employment pales in comparison, with less than 1 percent of all jobs in 2017. Despite their small share of employment, the saying that big things come in small packages holds true. The economic activity that these occupations help service and produce is substantial. Last year, visitor spending in Oregon on arts, entertainment, and recreation alone totaled to $1.1 billion. That’s enough money to raft the Big Eddy 22 million times, golf Bandon Dunes 3.3 million times, or ski Mt. Hood 15.6 million times! Total visitor spending on various categories reached $10.2 billion in 2017.

Intuitively, visitor spending within Oregon dropped significantly amidst the Great Recession. Less disposable income and tighter budgets don’t lend themselves to many vacations. However, visitor spending has been on the rise since 2011. Interestingly enough, when adjusting visitor spending for inflation, each dollar spent on arts, entertainment, and recreation translates into more jobs in the same industry than it did 15 years ago.

In 2003, visitor spending solely on arts, entertainment, and recreation was $1.07 billion (in 2017 chained dollars). The state has experienced rapid employment growth in the last handful of years, and inflation-adjusted visitor spending is nearing its pre-recession peak. The industries fueled by various types of visitor spending (accommodations, food service, retail sales, etc.) may be getting a shot in the arm as more and more folks travel to Oregon to take in its beauty and invest in local communities through tourism dollars. Whether it be enjoying the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, exploring the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, or speeding a jet boat through the Rogue River, there’s something for everyone in our beautiful state.
Interview with a Vampi… I Mean, Raft Guide

Recently, I had the pleasure of going whitewater rafting down the Big Eddy on the Deschutes River. Now, I may be a fairly athletic guy, but I couldn’t have possibly made it down in one piece without my raft guide. Their ability to navigate the river, clearly communicate directions to the rafters in their boat, and make the soaking trip downriver a fun, interactive experience isn’t an easy feat. So, I sat down with Seventh Mountain River Company’s Benjamin Doran, a local raft guide for 10 years, to see what drew him into this line of work.

“What attracted me to the raft guide community was the outdoor lifestyle it offered. I’m not an indoor person, and I get to be outside every day,” Doran says. Given the rarity that someone makes this trip in the middle of January, I had to ask about the seasonality of the work. “Our busy time is mid-July to late August because the season doesn’t really kick up until the kids get out of school. And since people know it’s not a year-long position there is a lot of turnover,” Ben stated. In fact, there are only a handful of guides who return the following year, while most are brand new. “The training, hourly wage, and tips for raft guides is incredibly good. It just doesn’t add up that we’re practically begging people to become river guides in their community.”

Given the tightness of the labor market and difficulty filling vacancies, Seventh Mountain’s story will sound familiar to nearly every firm that is hiring at the moment. While some vacancies may be unfilled because of wage issues, others are difficult to fill for other reasons. The summer recreation occupations listed above are typically imagined to pay the minimum wage. However, nearly half of these jobs – 44 percent – pay more than a dollar above the minimum wage, even when accounting for the three different minimum wage levels within the state. So, those looking for something to do with their spare time this summer, or the next, can rake in some pretty decent cash from working in these recreation jobs.

Soak it Up

It’s not too late to secure a job during the summer months, as employers are reporting a record number of vacancies. If you’re a teenager, or know of one who could use the work, there are plenty of summer job opportunities for teenagers, as well. Also, when you’re out and about soaking up the sun, take a moment to admire the hard work and effort that these folks do to make our summer fun a little bit more, well… fun!

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