Good Help is Hard to Find

Maintaining high standards for personal trainers can be difficult for small fitness centers in rural areas.

Every year, like most fitness centers, we have to hire new trainers. In the search for new candidates, we sometimes wonder if we have set the bar too high. Our hiring policy for trainers requires that every candidate have an appropriate college degree, or be working toward such a degree. All of our full-timers have at least their bachelor's in exercise science, physical education, adult fitness or something similar. All of our part-timers are working toward such degrees at one of our local colleges. Some have advanced degrees, many have additional certifications and somebody is always engaged in a new educational endeavor. We pride ourselves on the educational achievements of our staff, and we even include the benefits of our "all college-educated fitness staff" in our marketing. As an independent facility, we think this is something unique that helps us to differentiate ourselves. But, it also makes me wonder if we have made hiring too difficult.

Great expectations

We have high expectations for our trainers, and we treat them as the professionals they are. They perform fitness evaluations and three introductory sessions with every new member. They work with special populations, including members with injuries, high blood pressure and low-back problems. They are constantly on the workout floor helping members. Additionally, as in any small facility, we also ask them to go beyond their comfort zone - they take sales calls, perform tours, resolve problems, clean the facility and do anything else that needs to be done. Finding individuals who have our required educational background, can learn and adapt, wear all those hats and act professionally is difficult. Add to that our location in a rural community with a small population, and there just aren't that many candidates. That leads us to wondering if we need to relax our initial qualifications.

Keeping the bar high

We believe that we're right to keep the bar as high as we do, instead of only requiring job candidates to be certified. It's not that I don't respect the various certification bodies; I certainly do. I have earned some certifications, and we host certification courses at our facility. However, we believe there is a big difference between a professional who is adding new skills or refreshing old ones, compared to candidates who are relying on a certification test as their only qualification.
Shouldn't we expect as much from our fitness trainers as we do from our nutritionists?
I know there are many highly capable fitness trainers who came into the industry via certifications, and not formal college education, but shouldn't someone who wants to work in our industry at least commit to part-time college-level education while becoming a trainer? Shouldn't we expect as much from our fitness trainers as we do from our nutritionists? Our physical therapists?

Do members care?

"Certified trainers" has become a checklist item at most fitness centers, putting trainers up there with every other commodity we peddle: Treadmills! Bikes! Weights! Certified trainers! The industry's influence has made my fitness center's position even harder to maintain. Not only is it difficult for us to find staff, but many consumers don't pay attention to certified vs. degreed trainers. So, while our trainers are easily appreciated for their friendliness and professionalism, and the effectiveness of their work with our members, their educational qualifications are typically dismissed by prospects as unimportant - even taken for granted by existing members. As we embark on a major hiring spree, we are attempting to hold the line on the qualifications of our trainers. We think we are right to do so. But, can we afford to be right if we find ourselves short-staffed? We'll see.
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