Here is a simple answer:
It really depends on what that particular gym/fitness manager/owner is looking for in a trainer. The vast majority of locations prefer to hire certified trainers. Beyond that, adding a college degree and experience are also in the qualities they are looking for in trainers and would definitely help with the hiring. I can’t tell you how many times I have witnessed trainers with only a certification in their arsenal who had no idea of how to train clients. They copied other more experience trainers and then pass it on to their clients. Others had more experience even without any college degree to back up their knowledge. And then there are those trainers who do have the college degree and a certification, but no experience.
So the question here is what are you looking for when hiring a trainer? Personally I would look first the type of certification they have, then if they carry a liability insurance (especially if they are going to be hired as independent contractors), experience and then a degree. Today, the best trainers out there have a graduate degree in exercise/sports science or exercise physiology, one or more certifications and most importantly many years of experience.
But like I said, it depends on the gym which you or anyone else is looking to get hired at. I hope this helps.
You ask an interesting question that I don’t think any individual trainer can answer. I wonder if there have been any employability studies done by ACE, IDEA, NASM, IRHSA, etc.
There are many, many ways to be a good trainer. I’m sure those of us with training experience can think for just a short time and come up with examples of great trainers with college degrees and also great trainers with a training certification. And we can also think of trainers with degrees and extensive certifications who we wouldn’t hire in a million years.
In an ideal world, trainers would have a mix of education and experience. Neither a certification nor a degree is a perfect indicator of a person’s ability to interact with an actual client.