The power of the outdoor economy is no joke, and universities around the country are starting to pay attention.
In the last five years, the industry has seen a spike in educational offerings geared towards jump-starting careers in the outdoor space. For those who’ve already landed industry jobs, however, going back to Utah State University for a bachelor’s in Outdoor Product Design and Development or Western Colorado University for an Outdoor Industry MBA is often out of the question.
“These courses were initially designed for people who were already in the industry but wanted to develop skills they couldn’t learn on the job,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, OIA’s executive director. “But they’re also for people making career changes or entering the industry for the first time. They’re a great way to learn about current industry issues.”
The first of its kind, the program combines OIA’s understanding of outdoor industry needs with accredited universities’ faculty and resources. The result is two non-credit certificates made up of three courses each, all with 15 hours of content, which can be completed online, at one's own pace, in a six-month timeframe.
The first certificate, Sustainable Product Design and Supply Chain, is offered in conjunction with Utah State University and includes courses like “Integration of Sustainability into Business Practices,” “Transitioning into a More Circular Economy,” and “Sustainable Supply Chain.”
“Sustainable product design and supply chains are incredibly important to our industry right now,” said Aangeenbrug. “It’s something we know consumers of our products are very interested in. They want to know that a product has been sustainably produced.”
The second certificate, Responsible Business in the Outdoor Industry, is offered through Western Colorado University and includes courses such as “Refine Your Unique Leadership Style,” “Marketing and Brand Strategy in the Outdoor Industry,” and “Understanding and Integrating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Principles and Initiatives in the Outdoor Industry.”
When asked about the timeliness of that last class, Aangeenbrug noted that Western Colorado University, along with OIA, recognized the importance of continued DEI education long before it became part of the national conversation.
“For a while now there’s been a recognition that DEI was going to be a hot issue for our industry, for any industry,” said Aangeenbrug. “Consumers also tell us they care about equity in the outdoors.”
To enable more people to take advantage of the offerings, OIA is offering a 50 percent discount on all courses through the end of 2020. Individual courses cost just $300 and a full certificate program costs $900.
“We knew there had been layoffs and changes in our industry due to COVID-19 and we wanted to make sure we were able to offer these courses at a discount,” said Aangeenbrug.
Currently, there are 76 students taking part in the “Responsible Business in the Outdoor Industry” certificate and 48 completing “Sustainable Product Design and Supply Chain." (OIA could not provide any demographic information for the registered students.)
The universities affiliated with each certificate plan on adding an additional course in 2021.
Unlike OIA’s Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy, there’s no networking component to the certificate programs. And since they’re so new, it’s hard to say if students will miss that aspect. As folks begin to complete courses, however, they’ll be able to provide feedback and, hopefully, apply what they’ve learned on the job.
“We're anxious to see the student evaluations,” said Aangeenbrug. “These topics are important to our industry and the courses should have a positive impact.”