Personal Training and Exercise Referrals
Mike Gascoigne is a member of the Register of Exercise Professionals
Why Use a REPs Registered Instructor?
The Register of Exercise Professionals is an independent organisation, with legal support from the government, that recognises the qualifications and expertise of health and fitness instructors in the UK, providing a system of regulation to ensure that instructors meet the National Occupational Standards set by SkillsActive, the Sector Skills Council for Active Leisure and Wellbeing.
There are currently 25 Sector Skills Councils for different industries, and they operate under a licence from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills that has to be renewed every 5 years. The legal authority for this process comes from the Industrial Training Act 1964, which established the Industrial Training Boards, made up of organisations that were considered by the Minister of Labour to be representative of their industries.
There is no legal requirement for fitness instructors to be individually registered with REPs, although it is very much in their interests to do so. It isn't like the medical profession where there is a statutory requirement for practising doctors to be registered with the General Medical Council, and nurses and midwives to be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The registration of fitness instructors is entirely voluntary, and the statutory requirement applies at a higher level with the licensing of SkillsActive as the organisation that sets the National Occupational Standards.
REPs is a subsiduary organisation of SkillsActive, providing membership to instructors who have met the required standards. Instructors can sign up for training courses with a number of approved academic and commercial organisations, and when they have qualified they can send their certificates to REPs to be included in the register, or to have their membership upgraded with new training modules.
National Occupational Standards for fitness instruction have been in existence since the mid 1990s, but they were linked to sports-specific coaching and there were no recognised standards for instructors to work more generally with customers who wanted to get fit and become more active. Fitness industry managers didn't know how to recruit staff because there was no clear definition of what constitutes a fitness instructor, and instead it was a free-for-all where anyone with some basic knowledge and experience of fitness training could set themselves up as an instructor and apply for jobs. To remedy this situation, the National Training Organisation for Sport, Recreation, and Allied Occupations (the predecessor of SkillsActive) put together a set of standards in 2001, not linked to sports coaching, and REPs was formed in 2002. Then SkillsActive was launched in 2003 as the parent organisation, revising and updating the standards that REPs would implement and monitor.
The scheme has been a huge success, mainly due to the enthusiasm of instructors who wanted their skills to be recognised, and the membership of REPs has risen steadily, reaching 28,000 in 2009. Membership of REPs requires a high level of commitment, and there is a system of Continuing Professional Development so that members have to enrol on new training courses or periodically engage in other recognised activities to show that they have contributed something to the industry or learned something new. There is also a requirement for members to hold a valid certificate of public liability insurance.
Clearly there is an argument for the compulsory registration of fitness instructors, same as doctors and nurses, considering that it's possible to do a lot of damage by giving inappropriate instruction, especially when working with people who have health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or problems with muscles and joints. The counter-argument is that we could create a nanny state where where students are unable to do casual summer jobs, putting out deck chairs on the beach, organising pony rides and selling inflatable rubber dinghies. The arrangement we have at present is probably enough to differentiate between professional and casual labour, and those who market themselves as professionals are finding that it's virtually impossible to get a job in any major gym or leisure centre without a REPs membership, especially the ones that are run by local councils.
In spite of the obvious advantages of REPs membership, there are some instructors who say they don't need it, and they continue to work on a freelance basis or in some of the smaller, private gyms. Some of these instructors might be quite good, but how can you be sure of a quality of service from someone who won't register their qualifications? In the absence of a statutory requirement, it's impossible to drag people into membership if they don't want to join, and in the end the decision to work with someone is down to the customer.
The advantages of working with a REPs member (or a member of an equivalent organisation in another country) are as follows:
It's hard to think of any advantages for the customer, of choosing an instructor who is not a member of REPs. You won't even get a discount on the price, because they market themselves on the basis of building up personal reputation and customer confidence (which registered instructors have to do anyway), and they hope that their customers will not find out about REPs. For instructors, there are a few trivial advantages of not joining REPs, as follows:
Clearly there is a difference between people who engage in exercise activities and give advice to their colleagues on a casual basis (showing them how to do their stretches, etc.), and those who market themselves as professionals. If someone claims to have knowledge and expertise beyond that of the general public, and charges fees for their services, then they should join REPs.