Ten top non-office jobs

Woman hillwalking - non-office jobs
Don’t want a desk job? We’ve rounded up ten alternatives to office jobs – find out what they involve and how to get into them.

There are plenty of careers to consider if you don’t want an office job – we’ve picked some highlights. Entry routes differ – you’ll find something to suit you whether you want to go to university, take an apprenticeship or college course, or aren’t sure yet. Non-office jobs offer a range of environments, so you can choose whether you want to be warm and dry indoors or spend your working life halfway up a mountain.

1. Outdoor instructor

Outdoor instructors lead and teach groups in activities such as hill walking, rock climbing, abseiling, skiing, mountain biking, archery and watersports. They plan and deliver safe and enjoyable activities and often help to run an outdoor pursuits centre, for example keeping equipment and facilities in good working order. Outdoor instructors can work with children, young people, adults or a mixture of ages.

To get a job you need qualifications in the activities you want to lead from a national governing body (for example the Royal Yachting Association), and some experience leading these activities. Beyond that, there are several education or training options you could consider, though none are essential:

  • an outdoor activity leader apprenticeship
  • a relevant college course, such as a BTEC level 3 diploma in sport and outdoor activities
  • a relevant university degree, such as outdoor adventure
  • a training scheme run by an outdoor activity centre or organisation, which might or might not be paid.

‘Mountain walks, canoeing, sailing…’ – Jenny’s career as an outdoor instructor

Jenny is a trainee instructor at Thurston Outdoor Education Centre in the Lake District. She says: ‘My job involves assisting with outdoor education sessions and helping individuals in the group, while also working towards qualifications that allow me to run activities. During the winter I help to maintain equipment and grounds. There is also a staff training trip each year. This year we canoed the River Spey from Aviemore to the sea, which involved two nights’ wild camping.’

Outdoors every day in all weathers

Jenny doesn’t spend any time in an office. She comments: ‘Every day I work outdoors in a range of environments, on activities such as mountain walks, canoeing or sailing on the lake, or orienteering around the grounds. The best things about my job are giving people exceptional experiences and helping young people achieve things that they didn’t think they could do. However, the long days can make it hard work physically and mentally. I have to work outside in any weather conditions while staying visibly motivated and enthusiastic at all times to encourage the group.’

Empathy and a love of adventure are essential

Outdoor instructing isn’t for everyone. Jenny says: ‘It’s important to genuinely love the outdoors and adventure and be interested in teaching. You need to be determined, as some qualifications take a while to achieve, and able to work in a team, as throughout the centre everyone helps each other. You need to be sensitive to the needs of the group to modify each activity to suit them and be understanding and empathetic to people’s feelings when you’re taking them outside their comfort zone.’

2. Transport worker

The transport industry has lots of non-office jobs, whether you want to drive a vehicle, fly an aircraft, assist passengers, work as an engineer or technician, or help keep a busy transport hub running smoothly. Examples include:

  • bus driver, train driver, tram driver, HGV driver
  • airline pilot, helicopter pilot
  • ship’s captain, navigation officer
  • aircraft maintenance engineer, helicopter engineer, rolling stock engineer, railway signalling engineer, marine engineer officer
  • cabin crew, train conductor, airline customer service agent
  • train station worker, port operative, airport baggage handler.

Different jobs require different qualifications. For example, train operating companies and bus companies run trainee driver programmes; to get onto these you don’t tend to need particular academic qualifications. However, the selection process for trainee train drivers is tough, and to become a trainee bus driver you’ll need to have passed your driving test (often at least a year before you apply).

To become a pilot with a commercial airline you need to obtain an Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL) and pass a medical assessment (known as a class one medical). Training for the Air Transport Pilots Licence can cost up to £100,000 or more; in the UK you or your family will usually have to pay for this, either through a loan or savings. However, it will certainly get you out and about. Angus is a pilot and comments that he spends ‘probably less than 1%’ of his time in an office. You can read more about his job, and why he loves the view from his ‘office window’, in our profile of Angus’ career as a commercial pilot.

‘Dispatching trains on time’ – Ollie’s career as a rail customer service assistant

Ollie is a customer service assistant on CrossCountry trains and is based at Edinburgh Waverley station. He says: ‘My job involves the safe and punctual dispatch of trains, providing customer service, and picking and delivering catering orders to trains. I initially joined the service centre at Bristol [where food and drink is ordered, stored and loaded onto trains] and then gained a promotion and transfer to Edinburgh.’

3. Zookeeper

Zookeepers are responsible for the day-to-day care of zoo animals, including cleaning enclosures and feeding, and for educating visitors. The qualifications you need vary from zoo to zoo, but whatever qualification you have, be aware that would-be zookeepers typically undertake considerable unpaid experience before finding paid employment. Zookeepers have to be happy to be outdoors in all weathers. ‘You need to be able to find the joy in things while being soaked down to your underwear,’ says Hollie Weatherill, carnivores section head at Wingham Wildlife Park. You can read more about Hollie’s job and about becoming a zookeeper in our article on careers working with animals.

4. Healthcare professional

Some healthcare jobs are office-bound but many aren’t. Hospital doctors, nurses and pharmacists spend lots of time on the wards or in surgery – though they also attend meetings and may have commitments such as admin, management, further study or medical research projects, which require time at a desk. Nurses who like to be out and about can also go into roles such as health visitor (visiting vulnerable adults or parents of children under five) or district nurse (visiting patients for whom it’s difficult to get out of the house). Careers as a paramedic are also well worth considering if you don’t want to be stuck in one place. Discover how to become a paramedic in our article on how to get into the emergency services, and find more information on other healthcare careers in our healthcare section.

‘Running on adrenaline’ – Tim’s career as an A&E doctor

Tim is an A&E doctor at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. He spends about 10% of his time in an office and the rest in A&E departments. He says: ‘I see walk-in patients and those brought in by ambulance, and manage a department of 60–80 patients overnight, supervising one junior registrar and three senior house officers. This can include breaking very bad news, reassuring the anxious, sedating the agitated, relocating shoulders and being ready to perform thoracotomies (cutting through the chest wall). I need to be calm, professional and supportive of doctors, nurses and paramedics at all times while primarily focusing on the needs of patients.’

Courage, compassion and a thick skin

To be an A&E doctor, Tim says: ‘You need to be good at exams, be able to sleep during the day after nights, decisiveness, courage, cleverness, high integrity, compassion and a thick skin. The best bits of the job are 100% fulfilment, fantastic teamwork and being trusted by people to be beside them when they are scared/vulnerable/angry/low. The downsides are running on adrenaline instead of gentleness, the intensity, chaotic rotas, scared colleagues and the risk of burn out.’

Studying medicine as a graduate

Tim didn’t initially plan to become a doctor. He explains: ‘I applied as a graduate to do a second degree in medicine. I had to pass quite challenging entrance exams and interviews. This is the typical route of someone who realises after their first degree that they want to become a doctor.’

5. Countryside officer

Countryside officers are responsible for nature conservation in a particular area. They spend quite a lot of time outdoors, carrying out practical tasks and overseeing volunteers, though they do also spend time at a desk (for example to make funding applications or compile the results of a research project). Entry-level jobs often require a relevant degree, though a few apprenticeship positions exist. Read more about the role in our article on environmental careers.

6. Construction worker or manager

There are jobs in the construction industry at all levels, many of which involve spending some or all or your time outside on site. Our construction careers section has more details.

To avoid office work completely, take a look at crafts and trades jobs such as bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, electrical work or painting and decorating. A typical route into these is to take an apprenticeship after your GCSEs or National 5s.

If you don’t mind spending some time in an office (for example, a temporary office on a construction site) look at roles such as construction site management, which involves making sure that building work is completed on time, to budget and to the right standard. Lots of construction managers have a degree, though you can also get in via an apprenticeship or by working your way up and taking relevant qualifications as you go.

Depending on their role, many civil engineers spend lots of time on site too. ‘I knew that sitting in an office would never suit me,’ says civil engineering apprentice Sam. ‘I’ve been spending a lot of time at different sites along the River Thames, watching and getting involved in the renovation and replacement of flood barriers and river gates.’ You can read more about Sam’s apprenticeship in our construction careers section.

7. The armed forces

The armed forces have a huge variety of roles; some are predominantly office-based but many aren’t. As well as combat roles, look at areas such as engineering, technical support, communications, driving, medical roles, catering, environmental health, physical training, policing and music. You’ll need to pass a fitness test; in terms of qualifications, entry requirements vary widely, from none to a degree in a particular subject. Find out more in our articles on job roles in the armed forces and how to get into the armed forces.

8. Chef or food producer

Chefs prepare, cook and present meals, ensure hygiene standards are met and order ingredients. Experienced chefs also plan menus and oversee budgets. Employers include restaurants, pubs, hospitals, care homes, sports and leisure venues and the armed forces. Professional kitchens usually have a clear hierarchy; from lowest to highest the typical roles are:

  • Kitchen porter (which involves keeping everything clean and sometimes basic food preparation)
  • Commis/junior chef (which involves assisting a section chef, for example with food preparation and potentially some cleaning)
  • Section chef/chef de partie (which involves specialising in preparing and cooking a particular type of food (such as fish, meat, soup or pastries) or a particular task (such as grilling))
  • Sous chef (which involves being second in command, and running the kitchen when the head chef is away)
  • Head chef (which involves taking responsibility for budgets, menu planning and managing staff).

A common path to becoming a chef is to take a relevant NVQ or SVQ qualification after your GCSEs/National 5s – for example, a level 2 NVQ in professional cookery. You can do this as part of an apprenticeship (eg a commis chef apprenticeship), or complete your course and then start work as a commis chef. Alternatively, you could look for a job as a kitchen porter to get some kitchen experience before you begin your training.

Related roles include working in a bakery and being a food producer or caterer – potentially working for yourself from home, like Julia, who worked as a chef before starting her own business.

‘Physically hard work but never boring’ – Julia’s career running a cake baking business

Julia is the owner of Happy Cakes UK, a home-based bakery. She says: ‘My job involves baking cakes from scratch and decorating them. I spend time looking at current trends, designing cakes, sending and replying to quotes and doing book work. My job is quite physical and involves washing up, unpacking stock and delivering. I spend 30% of my time doing admin; the rest of my time is baking or decorating cakes… and delivering.’

Starting out in catering

Julia doesn’t describe her career path as typical. She explains: ‘I have a degree in hotel and catering management, worked as a catering manager for 11 years then started baking and set up my business when my children were small. A more typical route would be to do an apprenticeship in a catering job or to go to catering college.’

Making cakes for celebrities

Julia loves that her job is ‘never, ever boring’. She comments: ‘I’ve made cakes for celebrities and for lots of important events. Because I work for myself I have great flexibility in the hours I work. The bad things are that it’s physically hard work as it involves being on my feet most of the day. I never say no to an order so the hours can be long. To do this job you need to be artistic and creative, like working with people and be prepared to work long or unsociable hours.’

9. Photographer

Many photographer have lots of opportunities to get out and about, though they also spend considerable time at a desk – for example to edit images and, if they’re self-employed, to look after their own finances and admin. Photojournalists need to travel to wherever a news story is taking place; wedding photographers get to visit plenty of attractive venues; fashion photographers may shoot in a studio or on location. OK, so if you’re a corporate photographer you’ll spend lots of time in your clients’ offices taking head-and-shoulders pictures of their staff – but at least you’ll be in a different office every day.

You can find out more about photography careers and employers in our article on jobs in the media. A typical entry route is to take a photography degree, although it’s possible to find work without.

10. Florist

Florists buy cut flowers in bulk to sell to the public, keep them in good condition, arrange them into bouquets, construct floral arrangements for events such as weddings and funerals, serve customers, process orders and make deliveries. Those who run their own businesses also need to promote themselves to win new customers, manage staff and keep on top of their finances and admin – so in these cases there is some office work involved. Be prepared for very early starts to visit flower markets. You can take a level 2 or level 3 college qualification in floristry (for example, City & Guilds), either via an apprenticeship or before starting work.

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