Now’s the time to upskill in parks management

09 February 2024 | News

A new programme aimed at creating more leaders to manage New Zealand’s parks began during Summer School last November – and now's a good time to upskill in parks management for more reasons than one.

Tuition fees are free to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents until the end of 2024 and most of the students who are already enrolled will work full-time while they study.

The Master of Parks Management (MPKM) was developed following a call from the New Zealand Parks Leaders Forum (PLF) to address an urgent skills shortage in the sector.

The programme is the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and Associate Professors Emma Stewart and Stephen Espiner, who co-designed the qualification, are thrilled with the response so far.

"We’re delighted to report that the new Taught Master’s in Parks Management has generated lots of interest from across the motu, from Southland to Hauraki," Dr Stewart said.

"Ten students are now enrolled, mainly studying part-time while working full-time, and about half reside outside the Canterbury region and are dialling in online. We certainly have room for more, and it’s a great time to explore the opportunity while fees are free for the remainder of the year."

Several of the 10 students began the programme during November’s Summer School and almost all are working at organisations such as the Department of Conservation, Environment Canterbury and district and city councils.

Sam Strong, a Recreation & Open Space Planner at Thrive, is enrolled in the MPKM after spending 15 years working in sport and recreation, then deciding to make the switch to parks.

"When I graduated from Lincoln’s Bachelor of Sport and Recreation Management degree, I was seeking advice on how to alter my career focus and quickly realised my love for parks trumped sports and facilities,” she said.

"The MPKM was the perfect bridge, elevating my knowledge base to enter the sector a more well-rounded individual, while also providing me with the relevant management skills to progress into more senior roles."

Sam said the MPKM offered avenues to undertake research and focus on areas of interest, as well as an "endless supply of support through one-on-one guidance".

"As an individual who returned to tertiary study as a mature student, having course flexibility paired with a supportive learning environment is allowing me to balance full-time study and work, and accomplish my academic and career goals."

For MPKM student Ciaran Dunnion, a Reserves Contract Supervisor at Selwyn District Council, the decision to enrol in the programme was driven by his passion for environmental conservation.

"Balancing full-time work with part-time study was a concern initially, as I feared it might disrupt my work-life balance," he said.

"However, I can happily share that the flexibility of the programme and the support provided have made the experience manageable. I’m hoping to come away from the programme with better financial and business management skills, as well as an in-depth knowledge of parks-related legislation and best practice parks management."

Karen Elliott, an Operations Officer with the Parks & Forests Team at Environment Canterbury, said she was enjoying the Summer School experience and that the academic staff had put her mind at ease "and taken away some of the nerves of coming back to study".

She enrolled in the programme to build on her knowledge base and gain the confidence to progress into management roles, having worked in various sectors including eco-tourism, recreation, conservation and business optimisation.

"I have gathered a range of diverse and practical skills but have always struggled to put myself forward for more senior roles," she said.

"Part of my hesitation was due to not having formal training in the sector, so I saw the MPKM as a wonderful opportunity. As someone who’s coming back to study after some time, the process has been seamless. When considering pathways and course selection, the full team have gone above and beyond to help."

Learn more about the Master of Parks Management and apply here.

PHOTOS: From top, Sam Strong, Ciaran Dunnion and Karen Elliott are all revelling in the new Master of Parks Management programme, which they got a head start with during last November's Summer School.