High rates of staff turnover, particularly among front-line exercise professionals, is one of the most significant and costly issues facing the physical activity sector today, and is commonly highlighted by leading industry employers as a major drag on operational efficiency and their commercial viability.
Last November, ukactive and Lifetime Training produced a report exploring the causes of such high turnover in our sector. This analysis was mostly based on the insights from a survey distributed to a range of leading HR and Training Directors, working across some of the best known fitness employers. They found that the three biggest causes of high employee turnover are unmet expectations of the job role, a lack of career progression and few training and development opportunities. During the 2017 Active Training Conference, a panel of retention experts debated these key issues; and discussed the top-level solutions that will allow the sector to attract and retain the best talent in the UK, and drive future growth.
Firstly, one of the central issues recognised by both employers and employees was their expectations of the job itself: the tasks, responsibilities and earning potential associated with being an exercise professional, and how these compare to the perceptions of the role they hold as newly qualified employees making the transition from training to employment. One of the recommendations made by the panel was that operators and training providers should collaborate to include accurate descriptions of entry-level job roles as part of any Personal Trainer qualification thus bridging the expectation gap. This, alongside providing some work experience, would ensure that newly appointed personal trainers are aware of what the full role entails and are not ‘sold the dream’ leading to an early departure from the job.
Another key driver behind personal trainers choosing to leave the industry is the lack of meaningful career prospects in the physical activity sector. Most employers recognised that they were often unable to provide exercise professionals with clear opportunities to build a long term career in their organisation. This issue is particularly critical for employees who have been in the organisation for approximatively two years, who tend to have developed the full range of skills needed to perform their job at the highest level, meaning a drain of developed talent. The report recommended that training providers should collaborate closely with employers to offer a wider range of further training options and opportunities that could help fast-track talented individuals from the gym floor to junior management.
Finally, perhaps the largest reason for high employee turnover in the physical activity sector was the lack of opportunities for personal and professional development. Indeed, three quarters of industry employers stated that there was a skills gap between many newly qualified exercise professionals and the skills they require to thrive in the role – especially on all-important soft skills like working with vulnerable people. Discussions at the Active Training Conference concluded that to solve this problem, employers and training providers should work alongside each other to tailor existing programmes to ensure they address key identified skills gaps. And in the longer term, all training programmes (new and existing ones) need to be mapped against the CIMSPA Professional Standards. These steps would result in better prepared, more qualified exercise professionals and increase their likelihood to remain, grow, and develop in the sector.
Retaining talent is key to the success of any organisation, both in the physical sector and the rest of the economy. As such, operators, training providers and awarding organisations need to work closely together to ensure that everyone starting a career in the physical sector is given the training and opportunities to progress and develop into the backbone of a thriving workforce. And as many retention experts would say; a thriving workforce can only lead to a thriving industry.
Public Affairs & Policy Researcher