Half of personal trainers lack skills to support inactive people

Shocking fact revealed in Central YMCA report identifying skills gaps in the fitness industry
1 October 2014

A survey of 1,200 exercise and management professionals to identify skills gaps in the active leisure sector, has found that over half (55%) of managers believe that exercise professionals are under-skilled when trying to deliver social and psychological support to inactive people.

The report by Central YMCA through its operation YMCA Awards – Tomorrow’s exercise professionals – What does the future hold? – was published at Leisure Industry Week 2014 and has led to calls from leading fitness and leisure employers for definitive career pathways to be established within the physical activity sector. They would also like to see a greater focus on counselling and motivational interviewing within training, in an effort to prepare the workforce to cope with the growing number of inactive people across the UK.

With the national survey also finding that 46% of exercise professionals cite changing behaviour and lifestyle as one of the greatest barriers when working with inactive consumers, employers and exercise professionals have highlighted the need for “social” skills such as empathic communication in order to support the one in four people in England who are inactive.

More specifically, 86% of the exercise professionals surveyed mentioned communication as the most important skill to possess when dealing with inactive people. Meanwhile, 33% of the employers interviewed felt that those skills are actually not sufficiently covered by existing vocational training. Furthermore, many employers expressed concern over the ease at which young exercise professionals can enter the sector with minimal education or without a career development plan, yet were expected to empathise with an inactive adult and develop a programme suiting their needs and experiences.

YMCA Awards commissioned ukactive to conduct the Research which comes at a time when the Government is calling for employers to take greater responsibility and ownership of the skills agenda through policy reviews such as the Nigel Whitehead Review of Vocational Education, which encourages links between employers and Awarding Organisations to develop qualifications and, in certain instances, contracting directly with the Skills Funding Agency.

Responding to the findings David Stalker, Chief Executive Officer, ukactive said, “This is about developing training pathways that ultimately deliver professionals who are equipped to provide the spectrum of services required to effectively engage the most sedentary members of the community. These are people for whom there are often deep-seated psychological and social barriers to embarking on an exercise programme. Up-skilling our professionals to be able to deal with this is not only a critical investment in the long term health of the nation, it is vital for the long term sustainability of the sector.”

Head of Business Development at YMCA Awards, Lori Randall, added:

“The Government has clearly outlined its wish for employers to own the skills agenda and particularly advise the development of qualifications. At CYQ we are delighted to hear first-hand from employers what challenges they are facing on a daily basis and now look forward to providing them with solutions, starting with a series of events in November.”

Martin Seibold, UK Managing Director of Fitness First said:

“Enhancing the nation’s health and the expanding of the UK fitness industry will only happen if we find smarter ways to enable inactive people to get fitness into their life. We know changing behaviour is complex and that we need to fulfil people’s psychological needs to motivate them to stay active, which is a very different challenge for trainers and fitness professionals.

“As an industry we need to raise the standard of supervision and expertise by equipping teams with competency in communication, rapport-building and motivation, as well as fitness. As a result we need to modernise our skills and qualifications system and work further on turning fitness from a job to high value career. At Fitness First we have launched our own training academy to create the fitness professionals of the future to motivate and inspire people to get active and go further in life."

Request your copy of the full report or find out more about the Training Tomorrow’s Exercise Professionals events taking place throughout November 2014.