European Sport Skills Summit Considers Industry’s Future

    After three years, the European Sector Skills Alliance for Sport and Physical Activity project is wrapping up. What do the findings mean for the fitness industry around the world?

    As part of the European Sector Skills Alliance for Sport and Physical Activity—also known as the ESSA-Sport project—IHRSA, the European Observatoire of Sport and Employment (EOSE), and European Sector Skills Alliance (ESSA) partners across more than 20 countries, worked closely together to draft research and recommendations on employment trends and workforce development priorities.

    The European Commission, under Erasmus+, funded the ESSA-Sport project, which ran from November 2016 through October 2019. The project encompassed the whole sport and physical activity industry. It provided a unique opportunity to analyze the labor market and deliver the first Europe-wide employment and skills map for the sector.

    ESSA Sport Summit October 2019 photo no59 column width

    Kilian Fisher at a breakout meeting during the European Sport Skills Summit.

    The sports and fitness industry has huge economic and social significance, as the businesses and the jobs it creates calls for new skills to match the expectations from the labor market.

    Representatives presented the draft documents and findings at the European Sport Skills Summit held in early October 2019 in Helsinki, Finland. The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture hosted the summit, but the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union ran it as a side event.

    This summit was the project's final conference, and presented labor market research and needs to a wide range of stakeholders from across Europe. The summit's objectives included:

    • Planning the future of the sports sector
    • Focusing on skills and workforce development in the sports sector
    • Bringing a mix of national and European stakeholders together
    • Presenting European sports labor market statistics
    • Reporting on findings from European Employer Skills Survey
    • Discussing the realities of the industry, trends, and challenges
    • Consulting stakeholders to highlight priority actions

    Kilian Fisher, IHRSA's international public policy advisor, participated in extensive discussions, plenary sessions, and workshops throughout the two-day event. IHRSA is now working with EOSE and all ESSA-Sport partners on the final report, which is due in December 2019.

    For the first time, this essential research was carried out on a pan-European basis. Fisher says, “It has been a delight to work with EOSE, and many other European and national partners on this project.”

    Fisher says the two main themes of the summit were:

    1. the European sport labor market statistics, and
    2. the main findings from the European Employer Skills Survey for sport and physical activity.

    The summit didn't just discuss findings from the sports sector across the European Union. Presenters also considered employment data and statistics concerning health clubs and fitness trainers.

    “It has been a delight to work with EOSE, and many other European and national partners on this project.”

    Kilian Fisher, International Public Policy Advisor


    What Does This Mean for the Fitness Industry?

    Fisher says the research on changing industry trends will require new employee skills and training, while at the same time, the competition for skilled employees will continue to grow. The industry needs to collaborate on common challenges and solutions by identifying the challenges faced in recruitment and retention.

    The final ESSA-Sport report will discuss these topics further and should include recommendations from IHRSA. In the meantime, Fisher was able to share some immediate takeaways from the research presented at the summit.

    In an online survey of over 3,800 sports employers—of which 48.5% were sports or fitness clubs—across the European Union, 22.1% reported difficulty in retaining staff. Between 2011 and 2018, there was a 13.6% increase in fitness and recreation instructors or program leaders. This increase is low compared to the 85.2% growth of sports coaches, instructors, and officials.

    These stats lead to questions around employment versus self-employment, the different regulatory and tax environments, and other business challenges.

    The Top 5 Skills Fitness Instructors & Personal Trainers Need to Improve

    According to the employers surveyed, the five weakest skills they see in their fitness instructors and personal trainers include:

    1. Marketing and selling skills
    2. Ability to work with people with disabilities
    3. Communicating effectively with participants
    4. Understand participant needs
    5. Exercise science knowledge

    IHRSA participated in the second meeting of the ESSA-Sport European Expert Advisory Board back in June 2019. This meeting was a significant opportunity for the sector to work collaboratively to encourage an increasingly active, healthy, and inclusive Europe.

    "The scale of collaboration across Europe was a truly historic achievement," says Fisher. "IHRSA took the opportunity to develop stronger links with the pan-European organizations."

    At the 2019 IHRSA European Congress, IHRSA’s EMEA and Federations and Partners attending—from as far as Brazil, U.S., Australia, New Zealand—discussed the highlights of the draft report, including crucial initial research and recommendations.

    IHRSA will issue more information, key findings, and recommendations along with the EOSE press release after the release of the final ESSA-Sport report in December 2019.

    Author avatar

    Kaitee Anderson Fernandez @IHRSA

    Kaitee Anderson Fernandez is Director of Creative Content. She uses her experience as a multimedia journalist to tell the story of IHRSA's advocacy and public policy efforts. Kaitee spends her free time watching sci-fi movies, boxing, or working towards her goal of being able to do five pull-ups (a skill that would come in handy in the event of a sci-fi-like apocalypse).