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The Professional Development Conundrum

Experts agree that employers need to invest more in staff training and development to create stability, boost retention and improve the consumer experience. This is a particular challenge for many large-chain, membership-based fitness facilities. Rather than nurturing and training a newly hired personal trainer for exercise lifestyle programming and customer service skills, some fitness facilities orient trainers to be salespeople whose wages depend on commissions. Some facilities have sales professionals manage training staff, while others give trainers program-design templates and mandatory scripts that limit freedom to modify. The result: low wages and high turnover.

“This staff on-boarding, professional development and compensation model is inconsistent with developing staff who are well trained and invested in the culture of the organizations where they work,” says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, FACSM, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. “This has several unintended consequences . . . including pairing the least experienced professionals with the newest members, which negatively impacts the participant experience and, ultimately, member retention.”

“Club owners are hesitant to invest in staff development because it will cut into profit margins,” says Fabio Comana, MA, MS, director of continuing education for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “They also fear attrition from trainers jumping ship . . . and personal training pricing models in clubs generally fail. We call it ‘margin erosion’ as your staff becomes more qualified. Clubs can improve the perception and dollars with group personal training and more member-to-member and staff-to-member interactions.”

“It all starts with the reason our industry exists, says Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council
on Active Aging, in Vancouver, British Columbia. “It should be to improve the health and well-being of the population. If we do it well, we get rewarded. Nothing is wrong with sales and money, but if that is your reason from the start, you are off on the wrong foot. This is the thing that needs to change first.”

To read the full article published in the February 2014 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal click here.


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Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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