Choosing a Healthy Career Path
By Dru Frykberg and Rachel Vilsack
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Opportunities for careers as fitness trainers and wellness coaches are projected to grow in Minnesota as people become more interested in healthy lifestyles.
Thinking about fitness and healthy choices is no longer limited to New Year’s resolutions. Whether you interact with a virtual fitness trainer in one of the many video games geared toward getting you off your couch or visit a flu shot clinic at your workplace, you are participating in the evolving fitness and wellness industry.
Maybe you’ve even met some of the workers who help you stay healthy. Careers as fitness trainers and wellness coaches are projected to be some of the fastest-growing service occupations in the next 10 years. These occupations offer flexibility in hours, industry and fitness specialization. And they’re great career choices for people interested in promoting healthy lifestyles.
Personal Training as a Second Career
Ramon Aycart is like a lot of men hit hard by the Great Recession. He saw his nearly 10-year manufacturing career refurbishing diesel engines disappear in January 2009 after a layoff. Today, the 38-year-old with a high school diploma is pursuing a fitness career that promises to be in-demand but comes with a “big, huge pay cut.”
“Things happen for a reason,” said Aycart, who plans to work full time at the YMCA of Greater Saint Paul/Metropolitan Minneapolis in early 2011. “It’s something I always wanted to do. I’m very excited and very happy.”
After months of unsuccessfully looking for work, Aycart entered the Dislocated Worker Program run by the job counseling agency HIRED in Minneapolis. The fitness buff and soccer coach decided to become a personal trainer after talking with his employment counselor and his wife, realizing his manufacturing options were scarce and assessing his other skills. (See Table 1 for a list of key skills for fitness trainers.)
|Key Skills for Fitness Trainers
| Service Orientation
|| Social perceptiveness
| Active listening
|| Critical thinking
| Learning strategies
|| Judgment and decision making
| Source: O*NET, www.online.onetcenter.org
The level of training required for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors depends on the type of fitness work performed. Certification is most common, particularly for people who work as personal trainers. Additional class work is available for fitness trainers who specialize in Pilates or yoga. Most certifying organizations require people to have a high school diploma, be certified in CPR and pass an exam.
Some employers may require a bachelor’s degree in a health- or fitness-related field, such as exercise science, kinesiology or physical education, especially for advancement to a management position within a health club or fitness center. (See Table 2 for a list of typical occupational tasks for fitness trainers.)
|Typical Occupational Tasks for Fitness Trainers
|Observe participants and inform them of corrective measures necessary for skill improvement.
|Instruct participants in maintaining exertion levels to maximize benefits from exercise routines.
|Plan routines, choose appropriate music and choose different movements for each set of muscles, depending on participants’ capabilities and limitations.
|Evaluate individuals’ abilities, needs and physical conditions, and develop suitable training programs to meet any special requirements.
|Provide students with information and resources regarding nutrition, weight control and lifestyle issues.
|Monitor participants’ progress and adapt programs as needed.
|Source: O*NET, www.online.onetcenter.org
In Aycart’s case, the Dislocated Worker Program paid his tuition for a six-month course at the National Personal Training Institute in Brooklyn Park to become a certified personal trainer.
Christina Lira, Aycart’s employment counselor at HIRED, has at least three clients pursuing fitness careers after losing jobs through layoffs. The Dislocated Worker Program pays for their retraining.
“Ramon is very lucky to get hired full time,” she said. “Fitness careers are low paying and it’s difficult to find full-time jobs.”
Wages for fitness trainers averaged $13.23 per hour during second quarter 2010 and are below the state’s average.] Wages, however, can vary depending on the industry where a person works. Part-time employment is common, too. About 40 percent of fitness trainers work part time nationally. Many fitness workers hold multiple jobs, like teaching or working at several fitness centers and at clients’ homes
Stepping into a Career Routine
Fitness careers do offer flexibility in the amount and style of work performed. In 2009, there were just over 5,000 fitness trainers and aerobics instructors working in Minnesota. The majority of fitness trainers work in fitness centers or for civic and social organizations. Fitness trainers are also employed in educational services and numerous private industries, such as company headquarters, hotels and doctor’s offices. Among personal fitness trainers, self-employment may be an option, too. About 9 percent of fitness workers are self-employed nationally (See Table 3 for a breakdown of what industries employ fitness trainers in Minnesota.)
|Employment of Fitness Trainers in Minnesota's Industries
|Other amusement and recreation industries (includes fitness centers)
|Civic and social organizations
|Other school and instruction (includes sports and recreation instruction)
|Management of companies
|Individual and family services
|Elementary and secondary schools
|Offices of physicians
|Grocery and related product wholesalers
|Note: Employment estimates reflect 2009 annual statistics.
|Source: Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Occupational Employment Statistics
Aycart hopes to supplement his full-time YMCA work by offering in-home personal training. Eventually, he aspires to have a full-time private personal training business or to own a fitness center.
Fitness careers can be great for people with lifestyles that permit working multiple part-time jobs, Lira said.
Alejandra Tobar-Alatriz, 31, is an example of a fitness professional who works various part-time jobs.
She was laid off from her position as a community organizer nearly two years ago and sought retraining support from the Dislocated Worker Program, which helped the part-time Pilates teacher get certified in group fitness instruction and study to become a global somatics instructor.
Tobar-Alatriz, who has bachelor’s degrees in theater and dance from the University of Texas, now works part time at the YWCA of Minneapolis teaching group fitness classes and offering personal training, and for three theater groups teaching, consulting and performing.
“I was underemployed for so long,” she said. “I’m grateful to have a plethora of work.”
Tobar-Alatriz’s YWCA work has grown from four hours a week to as much as 15 hours. She said it’s possible she could sustain herself in the fitness industry by increasing the number of personal training clients she meets with, but building relationships and developing a following take time.
Healthy People, Healthy Employees
In addition to personal fitness, corporations are promoting health and wellness among their employees.
In 2009, the most common options offered to employees whose organizations participate in wellness programs included flu immunization, health risk assessments and tobacco cessation programs
Wellness programs benefit more than just employees. Company benefits include increased labor productivity, decreased absenteeism, greater employee morale and reduced health care costs. A recent study published by the Harvard Business Review found lower health care costs and high returns on investment for organizations with corporate wellness programs
Kelly Berte, 26, works full time in corporate wellness. She manages the Cargill Wellness Center as an employee of HealthSource Solutions of St. Louis Park, which provides employers with worksite health promotion programs and fitness center services.
Berte teaches various fitness classes, conducts health programs and creates personalized fitness programs. These services are available to the nearly 1,300 Cargill employees, or 33 percent of the workforce, who use the wellness centers in Hopkins and Wayzata.
“Really, it was the science of health that drew me into it,” she said of her career choice. Berte considered becoming a nurse but opted to work in preventative health rather than patient care. “I consider myself a channel between the latest research and my clients.”
“A four-year degree is a must and certifications certainly help,” she said of corporate wellness employment. Berte graduated from the University of Iowa with bachelor’s degrees in dance and health promotion. She also is certified to teach a variety of group fitness classes, such as kickboxing, bodystep and yoga.
Besides a college degree and certifications, Brittani Locke recommends pursuing internships. She said her corporate wellness internship at Lands’ End in Dodgeville, Wis., helped her land her dream job right out of college working for HealthSource Solutions as the senior fitness specialist at Ecolab in Eagan.
Locke, who has a bachelor’s degree in community health education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse as well as various certifications, most enjoys the relationships that develop working in corporate wellness. Not only does she meet with her clients on a regular basis, but she sees them interact with their colleagues in both a work and fitness setting. (See Table 4 for a list of typical occupational tasks for fitness and wellness coordinators.)
|Typical Occupational Tasks for Fitness and Wellness Coordinators
|Develop or coordinate fitness and wellness programs or services
|Develop fitness or wellness classes, such as yoga, aerobics, weightlifting and aquatics, ensuring a diversity of class offerings.
|Maintain wellness- and fitness-related schedules, reports or records.
|Organize and oversee fitness or wellness events or programs, such as information presentations, blood drives, CPR or first aid training or organized runs or walks.
|Organize and oversee health screenings, such as flu, mammography, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings.
|Prepare and implement budgets and strategic, operational, purchasing and maintenance plans.
|Supervise fitness or wellness workers, such as fitness trainers, recreation workers, nutritionists and health educators.
|Source: O*NET, www.online.onetcenter.org
Fitness instructors need to have strong customer service and communications skills to instruct and motivate people. Good organizational skills and attention to detail are also important, as fitness trainers plan routines and programs appropriate for their participants’ skill levels and then monitor their progress.
“Lots of people are shocked to find this out, but I don’t work out six hours a day,” Berte said. “We do quite a bit of administrative work and program planning. There’s a lot of desk work included in our jobs.”
Fitness professionals also should be physically healthy and fit to conduct classes and demonstrate proper form. They don’t have to be accomplished athletes, however, or a certain size or shape.
“Just having an outgoing personality and being able to relate to people is probably one of the biggest things,” Locke said.
Locke said most of her health counseling is conducted on a one-on-one basis, but she sees that moving to more formal, group-based education, perhaps as a partnership with company health insurers.
Programs and education will likely become even more geared to reducing the risks of diabetes and obesity and addressing specific population needs, such as older adults, she said.
A Fit Future
The demand for healthier lifestyles is growing, whether it is thanks in part to reality television shows where contestants compete by losing weight, video games where virtual fitness trainers help you work out in your home, or the numerous health-conscious magazines available for sale at every newsstand. This demand will transfer to employment for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors, which is projected to grow by 24 percent between 2009 and 2019 in Minnesota, as demand grows at fitness centers and health clubs. That’s about 1,200 new fitness workers needed across Minnesota.
People with degrees in fitness-related subjects will find more opportunities, as will those who incorporate new technology or wellness issues into the services they offer. Demand for yoga and Pilates is expected to continue to increase, as the aging population seeks more low-impact forms of exercise. Specialization in children’s fitness may grow also, as family-oriented fitness centers are offering expanded group exercise classes for children.
1]Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), Occupational Employment Statistics.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Santamour, Bill. “Employers spend on wellness to improve bottom line,” H&HN: Hospitals & Health Networks, December 2009, Vol. 83, Issue 12, page 58.
Berry, Leonard; Mirabito, Ann M.; and Baun, William B. “What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs?” Harvard Business Review, December 2010.