FE reform is a surer way to a healthier nation and fewer sick notes

The sport and fitness sector could be instrumental in delivering better health outcomes for the nation with more flexible skills training

The sport and fitness sector could be instrumental in delivering better health outcomes for the nation with more flexible skills training

28 Apr 2024, 5:00

As more people think about their health following the pandemic, a recent UK Fitness Report conducted by PureGym highlighted upward trends of the fitness and physical activity industry. However, a lack of workforce training is holding the sector back from delivering the economic and social benefits the government clearly desires.

Despite barriers such as the cost-of-living crisis, almost a quarter (24 per cent) of the population increased their spending on exercise in the past year. As a result, gym membership has also grown by 2 per cent in the past 12 months so that 16 per cent of the population are now gym members. One in four of us also choose to work out from home.

As with any sector, an increase in demand requires the workforce to meet it. But despite its growth, the number of certifications is decreasing and organisations within the sport and physical activity sector are finding it difficult to source the skilled staff they need. For example, 42 per cent of gyms and leisure centres are struggling to fill fitness instructor roles.

In The Road to the 2024 Election Manifesto by The Sports Think Tank, I wrote that perceptions of careers within the physical activity sector as unstructured or lacking clear pathways for development don’t match reality. Government and industry alike must re-align their narratives accordingly, ensuring the sector is seen as an attractive choice.

As the Prime Minister calls out what he calls the nation’s ‘sick note culture’, it’s important to note that filling current gaps with skilled and motivated employees can help drive the UK towards the goals set out in the recent Get Active Strategy, providing considerable economic and social benefits.

According to the government’s latest figures, 63.8 per cent of adults are overweight or living with obesity and over one-quarter are classed as inactive (averaging less than five minutes of activity a day).

Meanwhile, the government estimates that every £1 spent on sport and physical activity generates almost £4 in return across health and wellbeing, strengthening communities and the economy. Each year, active lifestyles prevent 900,000 cases of diabetes and 93,000 cases of dementia, a combined saving of £7 billion to the UK economy.

Every £1 spent on physical activity generates almost £4 in returns

As well as easing the strain on the NHS, physical activity helps tackle a range of social challenges, from loneliness and community division to unemployment and crime.

In summary, if the government wants to reduce sickness absence in the wider workforce, it’s never been more important for the fitness sector to be taken seriously.

Government could, for example, expand current employability programmes to include the sport and physical activity sector. Take the National Skills Fund, which help adults to train and improve their job prospects. It focuses entirely on meeting ‘current and emerging skills needs’, but sport and physical activity are excluded from it.

Additionally, the rules set by regulators mean there are strict guidelines for how qualifications are designed. A funding moratorium in place for the past three years has prevented the redevelopment of many qualifications. The new reforms, which do give significant weight to the employer voice, are restricted by pre-defined standards and additional skills set by IfATE.

Coupled with this, the approval process for new qualifications is lengthy, which means they could potentially be out of date before learners can complete them. This current system doesn’t allow for flexibility, innovation or the ability to react to demand.

Government should allow greater flexibility for sector qualifications to be designed in a way that meets the needs of employers and shorten the approvals process to ensure they are relevant and up-to-date.

This would allow all sectors to address workforce skills gaps in a more responsive way. And for the sport and fitness sector specifically, this could have a significant impact on its ability to deliver the economic and social benefits the nation needs and we can deliver.

Reforming eligibility criteria for time off work may or may not be part of the solution, but tackling the current skills gap is essential to meeting the goals set out in the government’s Get Active strategy, and that’s a sure way to make the nation healthier in the long run.

More from this theme

ABS, Skills reform

Maths to 18: MPs want financial literacy alternative to GCSE resits

Education committee urges ministers to 'prioritise' financial education in post-16 maths

Billy Camden
Bootcamps, Ofsted, Skills reform

US ed tech giant exits bootcamps after raking in £5m

Struggling firm leaves UK training 'in the best interest of students'

Billy Camden
Colleges, Skills reform

MPs: DfE should include FE in teacher recruitment forecasts

FE is the 'worst impacted' sector yet often ignored by DfE plans

Josh Mellor
AEB, Politics, Skills reform

DfE scales back ‘free courses for jobs’ offer 

Access will be restricted to adults earning below £25k in 2024/25

Billy Camden
Politics, Skills reform

‘Change on an unprecedented scale’: Ofqual responds to ABS plans

Qualifications reform risks more exams, 'unregulated' A-levels and students unprepared for higher study, says exams regulator

Freddie Whittaker
Colleges, ITPs, Skills reform, Universities

Publish performance data for university franchise providers, MPs tell OfS

Public Accounts Committee warns of system abuse and oversight flaws

Josh Mellor

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *