Recruitment & Retention of Personal Trainers in the Fitness Sector

As the fitness sector continues with its buoyant bounce back following two years of turbulence during COVID-19, it has never been more important than now to ensure that talent is both recruited and retained within the sector. A key perspective of this very much sits with education providers to make sure that tomorrow’s workforce has the soft skills, as well as the technical knowledge needed to show longevity within the sector. To explore the role the education sector may play, we caught up with James Luscombe from personal trainer course provider Study Active to get his views on this imperative issue.

Firstly James, what is your understanding of the current landscape, why is recruitment and retention an issue that we are hearing so much about?

As someone who speaks to Gyms and Leisure centres most days, two themes I am hearing are “we are finding it hard to recruit PTs” and “we have a high churn of PTs”, both of these are obviously very concerning. Qualifying as a PT is a very popular career choice so in many ways its surprising that gyms may struggle to recruit. With regards to retention however it begs the question are PTs adequately prepared for the “real world” through their qualification or if more is needed from the education sector to prepare PTs for work.

Why is it that Gyms may struggle to recruit despite so many people qualifying as a Personal Trainer each year?

There are several possible theories here. Firstly, many newly qualified PTs are already in employment within another sector. They may start off just wanting to do a few sessions a week as a secondary income. It is however a preference of many gyms to get a full-time commitment from a freelance PT. Maybe there should be more focus on those who do not wish to work full time, some kind of reduced rent scheme? Another factor is that there are so many variations of Personal Training nowadays, for example outdoor training, online training etc. This has really disrupted the sector as now PTs don’t need to be in an actual gym to deliver their product. This is not necessarily bad for the sector, variety and innovation are good things, however it’s a factor on why some gyms find recruitment a struggle.

What could education providers do to better prepare Personal Trainers for the challenges they face?

Well simply put there is a huge variation on the quality of education within the fitness sector and whilst there are some very good providers out there, others exist that may not be delivering the qualification in the way that regulatory bodies such as CIMSPA would like. CIMSPA of course have excellent links with employers so they are best places to ensure education aligns to current sector needs.  For this reason, it is so important that anyone wishing to become a PT should look to choose a CIMSPA endorsed training provider. Regardless of whether a provider chooses to display the CIMSPA logo on their website, the only way to check if a provider is really CIMSPA endorsed is to go to the CIMSPA directory and search under partners – a provider should be listed as a “Training Provider Partner”. It is also important that a provider includes at least some practical input, online learning is fine as this is the preference of many, but there should always be at least an option for practical; coaching and assessments.

Once Personal Trainers are on board, what do you think gyms can do to improve their staff retention?

A PT is a unique role as it is almost always a freelance role, so the PT is essentially a self-employed staff member who essentially pays rent to operate from a gym. Unfortunately, what many find is that, whilst they may possess good knowledge and coaching skills, they are unprepared for the fact that they must essentially market themselves and find their own clients. This skills gap has been partially addressed in recent years via the inclusion of a mandatory business unit embedded within PT qualifications but many still need mentoring which is a role that the gym can play. Just because the PT is self employed this does not mean that the gym should not help them, they should be offering coaching, mentoring, promotional tips and referrals to help the PT gain clients. Fortunately, gyms are starting to do this and helping ease freelance PTs into their role, but this is an area that collectively the sector needs to improve on across the board, so PTs are not just set free, more so they work in synergy with the gym operator.

Can the wider sector support gyms?

Absolutely, this is one of many reasons why CIMSPA are so keen to ensure that all operators sign up to become CIMSPA employer partners, thus unlocking a plethora of resources and guidance – the support is there, gyms just need to harness it. There are established PT management companies such as “Your Personal Training” who Study Active work closely with, who are also on hand to be brought in to help with talent management in gyms. As for training providers such as Study Active, we encourage gym operators large and small to come and talk to us, we are always full of advice and solutions whether that be regarding a qualification, CPD course, talent strategy or just an informal chat – let’s work together rand make the fitness sector better!

For further details on Study Active please see

active-net’s industry theme this year is recruiting and retaining team members – for further event information or to secure your space, please contact