The skills agenda


Rob Johnson, Future Fit Training (chair)
Jenny Patrickson, Active IQ
Rob May, YMCA Awards

Rob May, director of YMCA Awards, launched the discussion by saying that both quality and qualifications were under attack. He described how awarding bodies are held to account through a regulatory framework which aims to ensure public confidence in qualifications. But asked what the repercussions would be for our system of education and employment if public confidence should diminish?  

“Imagine a system where assessments are devised and planned by non-technical experts; a fully-functioning qualifications system is rapidly dismantled, with new assessment bodies popping-up and left to largely self-regulate; experienced regulators are largely ignored and qualifications are de-emphasised or left out of certain career pathways, even where the requirement for public trust is paramount. You don’t have to imagine it – these all features of emerging public policy,” he said.

May queried how we can preserve quality in an education and training landscape that is under attack from technologists and policy makers.

He outlined how the Sainsbury report, post-16 skills plan and apprenticeship reform programme perhaps represented policy developments based on some misconceptions about how our vocational qualifications system works; unrealistic timescales for developing new qualifications and implementing an effective change programme; and arguably a miscalculation of the public’s attitudes towards recognised qualifications.

It was noted that, in the post-16 skills plan, 15 new technical education routes were proposed, funded by a £500m investment.

Rob May

Rob May

It’s a shame that the government is funding education to treat the nation’s hairline rather that its waistline.
— Rob May, YMCA Awards

However, whilst tailor, furniture maker, hairdresser and estate agent are included in the funded “T-Level” routes, fitness and physical activity professionals have been excluded – “it’s a shame that the government is funding education to treat the nation’s hairline rather that its waistline.”, May commented.

In this context, May asked how we can preserve quality in an education and training landscape that is under attack from technologists and policy makers.

“Firstly, it’s important to have a sector-led professional body which endorses only where quality can be demonstrated, but maintains the flexibility to endorse wherever it can be demonstrated.

Secondly, as a sector we must continue to converge and agree on acceptable standards of high quality – not just a minimum viable product for our learners. Finally, it’s crucial for us all to share a strong and united voice to not just challenge the government’s ‘anti-expert’ polemic which is undermining our sector, but to find and present a clear way forward, because the solution is not going to come from the government,” said May.

Rob Johnson, managing director of Future Fit Training, highlighted some of the findings of the “Raising the Bar” research report, which found that 84 per cent of employers have to provide additional training to fitness staff to ensure they are “work-ready”.



According to the research, 77 per cent of employers said they needed to provide social skills, 73 per cent staff needed behavioural change training and 60 per cent said staff required additional training in business acumen.

The research, conducted in partnership with CIMSPA and ukactive, also found that 100 per cent of employers said practical assessments should be completed on real clients, not simulated on peers and not accessed remotely.

Eighty eight per cent of employers believe there should be a minimum number of hours experience working in a gym included as part of their assessment strategy, while 84 per cent said that PT qualifications should take no less than six months to complete.

“At the moment, it can take as little as four weeks to qualify as a Level 3 PT.  A NVQ Level 3 plastering course takes 10 weeks and a VRQ Level 2 hairdressing course takes up to 36 weeks. How can we be taken seriously as a sector if we don’t make our training and assessment more robust?” asked Johnson.

Thankfully things are changing, he said, with a review of standards and qualifications in the sector and CIMSPA tasked by the sector to establish a quality assurance process to validate the quality of training and assessment delivered against these standards.

Panel members Jenny Patrickson and Rob Johnson

Panel members Jenny Patrickson and Rob Johnson

Implementing a rigorous quality assurance process for both training providers and awarding organisations will result in highly trained fitness professionals that the industry can be proud of and that the health sector is happy to refer to.  

“We all have to up our game and get behind CIMPSA if we are going to make difference,” he said.

In her talk on the cost of quality, Jenny Patrickson gave a useful insight into the world of an awarding organisation with an overview of the complex regulatory environment in which it operates. She explained how Active IQ had to remain compliant with over 150 conditions of recognition on a daily basis, had to adhere to the rules and regulations of various types of qualifications with the Institute of Apprenticeships soon providing another level of regulation. In addition, there is the cost of refreshing qualifications to meet the new qualifications framework.

Regulation is just one side of the equation, she said, the detailed process of refreshing and producing new qualifications is the other. Reducing the variability in the quality of training provision is another area which requires extensive resources.

Finally, Patrickson highlighted the cost of correction to ensure providers take corrective action where they have failed to demonstrate compliance, which can mean apply sanctions or even withdrawing approval altogether.

Presentation Rob Johnson


Presentation Jenny Patrickson