It takes three to eight hours to prepare an Outback trip into the wilderness. This means filling out paperwork, preparing meals, gathering supplies, and setting up transportation. For more comprehensive trips, like the Wilderness Orientation in the summer, it can take two to three days of work to prepare properly. Guides run treks ranging from single day hiking trips to full week kayaking experiences over spring break, and can work daily shifts between five and 24 hours long.
For all of this, they are paid $40 to $50 per day by Outback Adventures, the equivalent of $1.60 to $10 per hour, for work days between five and 24 hours. Until being promoted to an Assistant Guide, which can take up to nine months, Outback Guides are not paid at all.
Vaishnavi Paudel, an Assistant Guide at Outback Adventures, said that if the position didn’t pay, she wouldn’t participate.
“I don’t think it’s worth it. I can’t work there enough to make enough money to sustain myself,” said Vaishnavi Paudel, who is also the Opinion Editor at The Triton. “I think it’s pretty ridiculous considering the amount of work put in. The hours of labor put into each trip… the physical labor.”
Many Outback guides describe the role as a leadership opportunity and say that even without the pay, they would participate. However, the current pay is inconsistent with the standard pay roles for all student workers.
Positions that “perform clerical, manual, advising and/or public contact duties which require the use of specialized skills” are paid between $12.58 to $23.00 per hour and jobs that “perform a variety of clerical and/or manual related duties which are usually semi-skilled in nature and do not require extensive skill, training, or experience” pay a minimum of $11.50 to $15.34 per hour.
Despite arguing that the job provides experience, connections, and discounted equipment, the university deems it necessary for guides to complete several required extensive trainings, out of pocket, which can cost upwards of $1000. Outback student guides are expected to maintain the safety of everyone on a trek, including during week long and overnight trips. This begs the question: If Outback guides are not employees, then who is responsible for incidents on the treks? Is the university, who facilities the treks, liable?
“It’s not a typical job,” said UC San Diego Communications Representative Christine Clark on November 13, “Not in the typical sense.” Clark described it is as more of a “leadership opportunity” or “volunteer” position.
The “New Guide Training,” which is required before you are guaranteed a position on staff, costs $115, but does not guarantee you a position on the staff. If selected for the position, students must commit nine months to the position and obtain another certification, a $250 required “Leadership Certificate,” before receiving any pay. Clark said that this process covers instruction, transportation, and meals, along with lodging and free equipment rentals. However, guides often drive the transportation, set up the lodging, and prepare the meals, besides being mandated to ensure the safety of everyone on the trip. Lead Guides are also required to attend a $725 medical safety course, which the University subsidizes to an out-of-pocket cost of $400.
“Like, I’m going to keep doing the job regardless, but [I’m] a student who is running lower on time and is getting more stressed about money and paying bills,” said one guide, who didn’t want to be identified out of concern for their job at Outback, acknowledging that they still haven’t earned enough to recoup the cost of the trainings. “But it’s hard to convince myself this is still a good idea.”
In early November, The Triton reached out to those who may have more context on the position and what it entails. Jon Schmidt, Director of Risk Management, redirected The Triton to Mary Lewis, Student Employment Manager. After initial conversation on November 8, Lewis redirected The Triton to University Communications. Jennifer Damico Murphy, Director of Human Resources Compliance Reporting and Analytics for the University of California, redirected The Triton to Caprece Speaks-Toler, Director of Compensation at UCSD. After initial correspondence, based on University policy, further requests were again referred to University Communications. Why the university believes this position is any different in terms of pay in still unclear.
“The University is going [to] look at the contracts for these programs soon,” Clark wrote in a follow-up email, “to evaluate if these benefits can be better explained to participants.”
Gabe Schneider is the News Editor at The Triton.
Correction: 12/5, 3pm: This article previously stated that all guides had to receive medical training, when only Lead Guides are required to attend the $725 medical safety course, which the University subsidizes to an out-of-pocket cost of $400.