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    Tourism in South Africa continues to be one of the country’s major revenue stream, with over 3.5 million tourists visiting our shores last year alone.  Most of these people embarked on a adventure of a lifetime as they ventured into the untouched wilderness to view its famous inhabitants whilst on their trip and thus it is vitally important for the future of the tourism industry that they are looked after!

    The Field Guide Association of Southern Africa, or FGASA as it is more commonly known, was established back in 1990.  Prior to its creation, the safari industry was without a governing body to monitor and police the activities of lodges and their guides.  Due to the ever growing tourism market, a group of experienced field guides came together realising that something must be done to protect the industry and ultimately ensure that standards are upheld.  That is exactly what FGASA aims to do – to be the benchmark in terms of a universal standard that all guides must conform to.  This in turn helps to regulate and standardise the industry, ensuring that the guest’s guided experience is not only of high quality, but most importantly, carried out safely, professionally and ethically!

    Such is FGASA influence on the industry today, that despite it not being a legal requirement to possess a FGASA qualification (this ultimately falls under the role of CATHSSETA) it is next to impossible to find employment as a guide without it.  For any new field guides that are looking to spread their wings in the high pressured tourism and guiding world, becoming a member of FGASA and passing the entry level Field Guide qualification that was previous known as ‘Level 1’ is essential.

    The process is relatively simple.  Register with FGASA, get the Field Guide learner manual and workbook and then either join a training provider or go solo by doing it all self-study. The latter is not recommended however due to the lack of on-site practical training (far more important than regurgitating facts from a book!).   It must be noted that registration with FGASA requires a valid first aid certificate recognised by the SA Department of Labour

    The FGASA syllabus is split into 17 separate modules that are all covered in the theory exam ranging from mammals, birds and reptiles to some of the less well-known (but vitally important!) topic such as weather and climate, astronomy and geology.  An extensive workbook covering all of these topics must also be completed to the required level prior to attempting the exam.  Once the workbook is completed and the learner feels ready they must sit the theory exam and achieve a minimum standard of 75%.

    This is only half the story however. Upon successful completion of the theory test, the budding new guide’s knowledge must be tested in a practical setting.  This involves conducting a professional and entertaining game drive to guests under the watchful eye of a FGASA assessor.  It is expected of a guide to prove to his or her assessor that they competent in terms of a wide variety of skills including the obvious like depth of knowledge but with far greater focus on practical skills such as driving ability in rough terrain, ethics, communication and hosting skills and the delivery of factually correct information.  There are too many parameters to list in this article but suffice to say that the process is comprehensive!

    If the guide is deemed competent in the 2 unit standard assessed (Creating and Conducting a Guided Nature Experience) and has successfully completed the workbook and passed the theory they are officially a FGASA level 1 field guide.  However, a PDP and registration with the National Department of Tourism is required in order to legally guide in South Africa.

    Summary for Field Guide NQF 4 (previously known as Level 1) Requirements:

    • FGASA Membership
    • Valid 1st Aid Certificate recognised by the Department of Labour
    • Completed and Signed off Workbook
    • Theory exam pass (75% or above)
    • Practical Assessment Competence
    • CATHSSETA certificate (provided by FGASA upon completion)
    • PDP (Required only for registration with NDT but this is a legal requirement to guide!)

    Upon completion of these requirements, the guide will receive a FGASA log book that all practical experience must be recorded in.  It is here that the journey to level 2 begins…

    A guide must log 260 days of guiding experience before attempting their Advanced Field Guide qualification (formally known as Level 2).  Once this is achieved, the log book must be sent to the FGASA offices in Johannesburg to be signed off.  The process to attain Level 2 follows a similar format – a theory test and practical assessment but with the inclusion of various workbooks, both compulsory and elective that must also be completed.  The manual for Level 2 covers the majority of the same modules but this time more in depth.

    The assessment process is more complicated however and must be conducted in a working environment with paying guests.  2 activities must be conducted in the presence of an assessor with a much greater focus on the delivery of the information and the level of professionalism shown.  It is important to remember that when guiding guests they deserve nothing less than 110% commitment from the guide in terms of the service being offered!

    Photo by Elmar van Niekerk

    Summary – Advanced Field Guide (previously known as Level 2) Requirements

    • 260 Days of Guiding Experience signed off by FGASA
    • Compulsory and Elective Workbook Completed and Signed off
    • Theory Exam pass (75% or above)
    • Practical Assessment Competence (2 activities)
    • 1st aid and PDP must also be valid or renewed where necessary

    Ultimately the process to the Field Guide and Advanced Field Guide qualifications are designed to ensure that the guests receive a factually correct, safe, ethical and entertaining drive.  For those with a passion for the natural world and desire to share that passion with others, the process is simple.  But is it easy?  Of course not!  But when tasked with representing a lodge, a country, and ultimately the planet Earth and its diverse inhabitants, there is a lot of responsibility on a guide’s shoulders!

    This is an industry of passion but it is one of vital importance.  Without unregulated and well qualified guides, the tourism to South Africa will undoubtedly drop and without this additional income, where will the money come from to continue to protect our dwindling wilderness that all guides represent….

    Blog by Ben Coley