Workforce, Higher Education, and Data and Evidence

Posted: Tue, 20 Feb 2024

Workforce, Higher Education, and Data and Evidence

The sport and physical activity sector has never been more important to the wellbeing of the UK; the Government's latest figures show that in England, 63.8% of adults are overweight or living with obesity[1], and over a quarter of adults in England are classed as inactive[2] (averaging less than 5 minutes of activity a day), highlighting the need for the sector to operate effectively.

The government estimates that every £1 spent on sport and physical activity generates almost £4 in return across health and wellbeing, strengthening communities and the economy. Each year, active lifestyles prevent 900,000 cases of diabetes and 93,000 cases of dementia, a combined saving of £7bn to the UK economy.[3]

As well as easing the strain on the NHS, it also recognises that physical activity helps tackle a range of social challenges, from loneliness and community division to unemployment and crime.

All of this demonstrates that it's never been more important for the sport and physical activity sector to be taken seriously in government, with its role in the overall health of the nation as clear as ever. Despite this, the sector faces numerous challenges in its mission to create a healthier nation.

Significant among these challenges is the state of the workforce. Despite its growth, the number of certifications being completed is decreasing and organisations within the sport and physical activity sector are struggling to find the skills required to fill roles. In fact, 42% of gyms and leisure centres say they are struggling to find people to fill fitness instructor roles.[4]

As it stands, a career within the sport and physical activity sector is often viewed as unstructured or without a clear path for development, but this is not the reality and both the government and industry must do a better job of ensuring its seen as an attractive option for potential employees, and taken seriously as a professional career choice.

In an ideal world, the sport and physical activity actor would receive support from the government in promoting its career opportunities at a level that its economic and social value contributions deserve, supported by clearly defined career paths viewed as viable options for anyone keen to pursue it. In turn, filling current gaps with highly skilled and motivated employees can help drive the UK towards the activity goals set out in the recent Get Active Strategy, providing considerable economic and social benefits.

In particular, the Government should look to expand current employability programmes to include the sport and physical activity sector, such as the National Skills Fund, which help adults to train and gain the valuable skills they need to improve their job prospects. Presently, the National Skills Fund is focused on meeting 'current and emerging skills needs', but sport and physical activity has been excluded.

The sector clearly has a skills gap, and given our sector is capable of providing invaluable support for the NHS at this time, the government should recognise the need for an expansion of employability programmes to include the sport and physical activity sector.

Additionally, the rules set by regulators mean there are strict guidelines for how sector qualifications are currently designed. There has been a funding moratorium for the last three years which has prevented the redevelopment of many qualifications The new reforms, which do give significant weight to the employer voice, are restricted by predefined standards and additional skills set by IfATE. Coupled with this, the approval process for new qualifications is lengthy, taking the L3 cycle 1 announced at the end of January 2023 as an example; full submissions had to be made by July 2023, approval will be confirmed by July 2024 (valid for three years), and the qualification will be operational in August of 2025. This system means that qualifications could potentially be out of date before any learners have the opportunity to complete the qualification.

This current system does not allow for flexibility, innovation or the ability to react to demand.

Going forward, the Government should allow greater flexibility from regulators for sector qualifications to be designed in a way that meets the needs of employers and shorten the approvals process to ensure qualifications are relevant and up to date based on the latest research. This means we can address skills gaps within the workforce in a more responsive way, ensuring the industry continues to perform its role of keeping the nation healthy.

At Active IQ, we believe these changes can have a significant impact on the sector workforce, driving both the economic and social benefits that we know investment in sport can bring.

Tackling the current skills gap is essential to ensure the Government can meet the goals set out in the Get Active strategy, and hope these are among the first changes put in place to create a healthier nation.


  1. Obesity Profile: short statistical commentary May 2023 ( statistical-commentary-may-2023)
  2. ActiveLives(
  3. Measuring impact(
  4. UK hospitality's next challenge (

Tags: Featured, Policy, Sport, community sport


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