Report finds UK exercise professionals lacking in skills needed to deliver motivational and psychological support to inactive people

back to list

01 October 2014

Leading fitness and leisure employers have consequently called for definitive career pathways to be established within the physical activity sector and 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[1].

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.

Central YMCA Qualifications 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 CYQ, 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 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."


Notes to editors:

  • The roundtable and insight exercise was part of an ongoing work programme conducted by CYQ with the support of ukactive, to understand "skills gaps" in the sector.
  • CYQ's report - Tomorrow's exercise professionals - What does the future hold? - was published at Leisure Industry Week 2014.
  • ukactive is the UK's leading not-for-profit health body committed to improving the health of the nation through promoting active lifestyles.
  • CYQ is a leading UK awarding organisation for physical activity, fitness and wellbeing. CYQ develops and awards industry-leading qualifications helping people across the world to develop new careers in the health and fitness industry and beyond.
  • The first roundtable featured representatives from: Fitness First, Everyone Active, The Club Company, Greenwich Leisure Limited, Nuffield Health, Central YMCA, Fitness Express, Impulse Leisure, One Leisure and Life Leisure.
  • The insight exercise featured a survey of over 1,200 exercise professionals and operational managers. The survey, supported by CIMSPA and SkillsActive, revealed that:
  • Out of the 1,090 exercise professionals interviewed, 86% felt that communication is the most important skill when working with inactive people, followed by an understanding of barriers to physical activity (80%), motivational counselling (75%) and understanding of behaviour change (76%).
  • Out of 166 operational managers interviewed, 33% feel that empathic communication and social skills are the top skills which are currently insufficiently covered by the current vocational qualifications followed by motivational interviewing (24%) and understanding of behaviour change (24%).
  • Out of the 1090 exercise professionals interviewed, 49% feel that they are not enough skilled to work with disabled people (49%), but also with people suffering from learning difficulties (46%), pregnant women (42%), individual suffering from chronic conditions (42%) and older adults (20%).
  • Regarding children, out of the 1090 exercise professionals interviewed, 65% feel that they are not enough skilled to work with children under 5, but also with children between 5 and 12 (52%) and teenagers between 12 and 18 (32%).
  • Of the 1,090 exercise professionals interviewed, 46% cited igniting a change of lifestyle through diet and physical activity as the leading challenge for exercise professionals when engaging with inactive people, followed by changing their attitude toward physical activity (33%) and engaging/motivating them (28%).
  • Out of 166 operational managers interviewed, 58% mentioned partnering with local schools as the best strategy to engage with different segments of inactive people, followed by establishing exercise referral in facilities (42%) and implementing specific activities (25%).
  • Out of the 1,090 exercise professionals interviewed, 67.5% cited including physical activity in their daily life as the most successful methods to engage with inactive people, followed by identifying real or perceived barriers and overcoming them (64%) and developing the understanding of the importance of physical activity (63.2%).
  • Out of the 1,090 exercise professionals interviewed, 52% felt that setting up unrealistic goals is the most unsuccessful method when engaging with inactive people, followed by relying on home training (48%), delivering monotonous classes (34%) and shouting and demonstrating "tough love" (33%).

[1] One in four people in England fail to achieve more than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week over a 28 day period - ukactive, 2013, "Turning The Tide of Inactivity".

back to list

Find a gym near me

Click here find facilities near you.

ukactive Job Finder

Click here to view industry jobs.

Activity providers:

  • Get more people active with our programmes and campaigns
  • Raising quality and standards
  • savings to be made

Suppliers in the active lifestyle sector:

  • Supplier with integrity
  • Supplier Directory
  • Networking & Sponsorship events
  • Trade discounts

Get ahead of the competition

If you are interested in finding out more, please get in touch below.

Lets Get Moving