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How to attract top talent during a labour shortage

by Les Mills

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“The key to my success is we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.”

So said Apple visionary Steve Jobs when asked how he built one of the world’s most successful tech companies. The goals may differ slightly, but the principles are equally applicable for health club operators.

Great people are a unique selling point that your rivals can’t copy, so it’s little wonder that people – and Instructors in particular – are so integral to your club’s success, particularly as members start to seek out their favourite live classes again.

As we enter a new growth phase, clubs with great Instructors are ideally placed to meet the yearning for community and human interaction we’ve all felt during the pandemic. As markets have reopened, dialing up the social experience has been key to re-engaging members and building back better.

The Global Fitness Report found two-thirds of gym members (67 per cent) prefer working out in groups, with group exercise classes now the single most popular gym activity, outstripping both strength and cardio training. Quality Instructors are identified as the single-most-important factor for gymgoers when choosing a live class, favoured by 28 per cent, so rockstars really are the lynchpin of a successful club business.

If a single great Instructor can attract and retain hundreds of members to a club, it stands to reason that a team of great Instructors can pull in thousands of members over time. Whether it’s boosting member retention, driving acquisition, or helping your club standout from the crowd, rockstar Instructors have the ability to transform a club’s fortunes.

That’s why recruiting great Instructors is the most important step in building a championship-winning group exercise team, and one of the most important metrics for determining your club’s success. That said, the reason it’s the most important step is partly because it’s the most difficult to do well.

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Top talent can be tough to find – and even harder to keep – at every level of the fitness industry. A recent IHRSA survey of 86 European health club leaders found that recruiting and retaining great people was still their number one challenge.

And against the backdrop of a global labour shortage, the scramble for top talent is intensifying competition among clubs and driving up the market value of stand-out group fitness Instructors, many of whom are being tempted away from traditional clubs towards the big bucks being paid by boutiques.

So, how can your club unearth the next crop of Instructor talent without breaking the bank in the process? The answer is closer than you might think…

 

Recruitment starts at home

As many of the world’s leading operators will attest, the search for untapped top talent should always start at your club’s front door.

The simplest – and often most fruitful – place to start is by looking out for people with great movement and presence in your club’s classes, as well as asking your Instructors if they have any friends that fit the bill. After all, 55 per cent of Instructors sign up for their Initial Module Training because they love the program as a participant. The best Instructors could be right under your nose.

“Most of our Instructors have either been members initially or guests who have taken a class here and then sought employment,” says Ashley McCallum, Assistant Group Fitness Manager at Gold's Gym in Fredericksburg, Virginia, (US).

“Once an Instructor shows interest in becoming part of our team, we do a screening and formal interview. If both parties are interested then we conduct a live movement audition. This gives us the opportunity to evaluate how the Instructor connects to our members and staff while observing their performance.”

Brad Woolford has been a Les Mills Instructor for over 25 years and is the owner of Zone Health & Fitness in Adelaide (South Australia). While Zone Health & Fitness doesn’t have a formal process for members who want to become Instructors, “we constantly encourage our members who are interested to ask, then we direct them to a Les Mills training module,” explains Brad, who says the qualities of a good Instructor include physicality, drive, humility and a solid work ethic. Brad believes developing members into Instructors is a smart strategy as “they’re already participating and passionate about Les Mills programs.”

It’s a similar story at Holmes Place in Hamburg, Germany, which makes a point of recruiting new Instructor talent from within. More than 20 per cent of the club’s current crop were recruited directly from the class or the fitness floor, with Instructors regularly scouting their classes for participants with good technique and an eagerness to develop. This helps to bring on individuals who are already aligned with the Holmes Place brand and are big advocates of the programs they end up teaching.

Marcus Müller, an Instructor at Holmes Place in Hamburg and a Les Mills National Trainer for Germany, believes his Instructor team is one of the club’s unique selling points and instrumental in its success.

“We have built up a first-class team at Holmes Place, consisting of 20 Les Mills Instructors who are all intrinsically motivated – brimming with fun and passion,” says Marcus. “Irrespective of the number of programs they’re involved in, the Instructors take the time to script their releases every three months, ensuring attendees benefit from top-level coaching and consistently great fitness experiences. They also train hard to improve their own physical fitness and serve as genuine role models for our members.”

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Stretching your comfort zone

Once you’ve raided your club’s studio in search of new Instructors, the challenge is then to get networking and take the search further afield. This means getting out from behind your desk and diving deep into the community. Think hard about who you’re looking for, where you might find them, and how should you recruit them?

Talented Instructors can emerge from any number of different fields, including:

  • theatre and dance companies
  • school teachers
  • sports coaches
  • dance, karate or yoga schools
  • the Armed Forces.

Each of these disciplines has produced thousands of great Instructors over the years and there are many more out there waiting to be discovered. Key to this is stretching your comfort zone by building relationships – or better still, partnerships – with these types of institutions. Positioned well, these are win-win collaborations where the institutions can signpost their people towards a handy stream of secondary income which will also sharpen their presenting skills, while your club gets a solid pipeline of potential Instructors.

One of the main points here is to form a clear idea of the types of Instructor that you want to attract to future-proof your business, so that you can target institutions where these personalities are most prevalent.

Think of the standout stars that you see in boutique clubs. These are typically young, energetic and dynamic personalities who appeal to those all-important Millennial and Gen Z demographics – which now make-up over 80 per cent of all people paying for exercise. Virtually all of these Instructors will be active on social media, so consider how you can leverage your club’s social media channels to advertise your need for new Instructors, as well as how you use the platforms themselves to scout for up-and-coming talent.

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The importance of ‘always-on’

Developing a clear idea of the type of Instructor you want to attract will make it easier for you to decide which Instructor prospects you want to take on and which you want to say no to. But although strategic partnerships can help increase your club’s Instructor leads, it’s vital to take an ‘always-on’ approach to recruiting, as you never know when you’ll need another great Instructor and it pays to have a deep bench.

For Carina Skarpsjö – the General Manager of Endorfin Alingsås in Sweden – building a great team is an infinite process that gains gradual momentum over time. She explains: “Finding new Instructors can always be challenging and this has certainly proved the case in recent years. That’s why you always need to be on the lookout for new talent in every class and everywhere in between. We’ll have several new Instructors coming in to audition each month and will look at dozens before we find the right people to bolster our team.

“Many of our Instructors have been with us for a long time and they’re trained to build great connections with members – this is massive for our retention strategy.”

“Technology is helping to develop our club offering but our strength will always reside in our people. They live our brand and deliver the ‘Endorfin experience’ that sets us apart from the crowd and keeps members coming back week after week.”

 

Investing in your people

With a global labor shortage starting to take its toll on all industries, operators will need to work increasingly hard to attract top talent in 2022 – and retain their existing star players.

“Given that the cost of labour is going to be higher whoever you choose to hire, I see this as a big opportunity for clubs to reinvent their recruitment strategy and set out to get the very best people they can within their given market and segment,” says legendary club manager and author Herb Lipsman.

“This may cost a little more in the short-term, but in a people-centric industry, having great staff and rockstar Instructors is going to set your club apart from the competition.”

Few in fitness would argue that great group fitness Instructors don’t deserve better pay, but after two of the toughest years the industry has ever seen, finding the budget to attract and reward star Instructors remains a major headache for clubs. That’s why we’ve outlined five positive steps clubs can take to unlock the extra cash that can safeguard star performers and attract new talent.

FINDING QUALITY INSTRUCTORS DOESN'T HAVE TO BE DIFFICULT

Les Mills Asia Pacific has the resources you need, to support your Instructor recruitment, retention and engagement efforts.