The fitness industry is often criticized for the lack of competency displayed by many of its professionals. Unlike the allied health fields, there are no regulations defining the different roles of the fitness professionals, nor a required education or practicum common of clinical jobs. Therefore it is ultimately the employer’s responsibility to dictate the competency requirements, as they are the ones who are placing these individuals in the position to serve the public. If an individual works independently then the responsibility falls upon them to become properly qualified for the services they offer. Whether an individual goes through formal schooling and earns a degree, goes the vocational route to become educated enough to pass a valid credentialing exam, or simply goes online and takes any illegitimate certification they are all technically potential hires for fitness facilities. This is where the hiring business needs to decide on the qualifications they will require for job entry and the protocols they will use to develop the new hire into an effective employee. In some cases, employers simply hire bodies, qualified or not, stick them in a position and watch them sink or swim. Others take the middle ground, requiring some measure of competency validation, as well as some initial training in the company’s procedures and service culture. But those who paid attention in business school know the advantages of a more structured approach; and while it takes longer, costs more and certainly requires more effort the dividends will pay off.
It all starts with employee selection; aptitude and personality goes a long way as most people can be trained, but this article is about the steps following the hire. Ten employees from 10 different colleges will have 10 different levels of competency, even if the major was the same. Therefore the assumption is minimum competency to start. The next step is developing the new hire into a highly regarded employee. This comes from clear policies and protocols, consistency, and proper leadership. Knowing the policies and procedures manual is a requisite step in the process but not the end of it. Most employers fail to provide adequate instruction on the most relevant part, implementation. To assume a four year degree prepares someone to work in a business environment is naïve. Professors teach to the practice domains of a discipline but very few provide the “how to’s” and every service culture has inherently unique aspects that make up its defining reputation. Many people assume if not by class activities, students will be prepared by an internship; again a naïve assumption. Internships and their impact on the student’s potential vary based on the intern supervisor and the experience afforded them. And what if the hire does not have a degree or formal education? They will not have the internship opportunity and must then rely on what they learned from prior experiences and in many cases their abilities are initially tied to the parenting skills of their guardian.
Internships can certainly be helpful though, but again they vary in effectiveness. Sending someone to a poorly organized environment may actually have a negative outcome on the student rather than a positive one. In other cases, the student is used as free or cheap labor and simply starts working a job and gets credit for it. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recommends an internship be defined as “a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships are supposed to give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.” In this context they are effective and provide a method employers can use to evaluate and impact potential new hires. The difficulty here is the process must be connected to the student’s curriculum and have very specific metrics for evaluation so that everyone benefits from the experience. Likewise, the process adds work to the already heavy demands on human resources, as someone must supervise the activities. Some facilities run extremely effective internship programs which provide high quality employee prospects and often yield stellar employees.
If the employment position does not warrant a college degree the use of college interns may be more work than would be justifiably beneficial. In this case, there are two steps employers can take to develop highly effective employees regardless of their previous education and experience. The use of mentors and job shadowing can be very useful aspects to employee development for several reasons. When used correctly these techniques will identify the key elements of the company, detail the exact way policies and protocols should be implemented and identify the practices that are integral to the service culture of the business. Mentors and shadow figures should both be highly competent employees that recognize exactly how the company is intended to operate. That said, the two responsibilities may serve very different roles.
For instance, job shadowing serves as work experience without the potential consequence of errors associated with inexperience or lack of preparation. Employees learn how to perform the job in the manner defined by an employer by walking through a scheduled work day as a shadow to a model employee. Mentoring on the other hand may use someone in the same position with experience, or more commonly may be an assigned administrator or corporate thought leader who conveys the proper steps to career success. Mentoring is a developmental process through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information and perspective to foster the personal and professional growth of the employee. Job shadowing is more about operations; designed to increase awareness to specific protocol, help model employee behavior through examples and reinforce the employee’s role in the business as well as the work requirements; mentoring provides for insight that is outside of a subordinates life and educational experience. The power of mentoring is that it enhances the likelihood of longer employment potential as employees feel connected and supported and it often affords improved potential for goal achievement and better problem-solving capabilities.
Operationally, it makes business sense to train new employees in a manner that replicates the best practices of the organization. Shadowing should be scheduled to provide adequate exposure to the job tasks so that new employees clearly understand the practice and the method by which they are employed to optimize the service culture. A key element to shadowing in the development of the employee is to engage the process. Certainly the outcomes need to be measured and evaluated but if the process is emphasized appropriately, the seriousness of it will be recognized and the potential of employees, new or old, to trivialize it will be reduced. Shadowing without structure can turn out to be ineffective and even potentially work in the opposite fashion when not taken seriously. Once shadowing has served its purpose the next step is to evaluate the outcome. Employee testing is a forgotten art; but how do you know how effective the impact of the training was without an assessment.
Mentoring too has considerations that can affect the outcome positively or negatively. Forced mentoring between conflicting personalities never works as a level of respect is inherent to the concept. Likewise, the role needs to be clearly defined and purposeful. The idea is to develop a leader not create a situation of big brother-like protection or underling dependency. As with any business practice, a premeditated model should be developed to provide effective structure and the implementation procedures should be in line with the business culture so the outcome is predictable and desirable. These types of employee development and staff building techniques should not feel forced, and may require initial nurturing to become an expected and functional part of the daily operations.