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Wed 14 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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When spending is saving

The industry's training experts explain why cutting back on staff development to save costs in difficult times could be an expensive mistake.

The industry's training experts explain why cutting back on staff development to save costs in difficult times could be an expensive mistake.

In the fitness and recreation industries, regular staff training is vitally important because the skills of your staff - from personal trainers to lifeguards to sports coaches - impacts not just your customers' experience, but their health and safety within your facility, not to mention of course staff motivation and wellbeing.

However, although businesses in the Middle East are unlikely to feel the impact of the global credit crisis affecting so many of its feeder markets until the latter half of this year, training experts have expressed fear that money-saving measures taken by leisure companies to cope with its effects will mean that training budgets are slashed.

It’s likely that the current financial crisis will affect many industries, including ours; however, I would say that it’s a false economy to cut back on the quality training that this region dearly needs.

Leisure Training & Advisory Services Ltd director and owner Pete Whittall, who works with companies in the UAE to train lifeguards according to Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS) standards, says that when under financial pressures "the saddest thing is that chief executives will tend to cut training and marketing budgets, yet these are the two key areas you need investment in. It is from those that you get the growth, capability, competence and confidence in being able to do your job".

PRM International training manager Heike Glassner agrees and admits that the training business could be affected as operators tighten their purse strings.

"One thing that happens often is people cut their training spend," she says.

Whittall and Glassner warn that this could be a costly mistake, however, especially if an accident were to happen in a recreation or health club facility.

"If a company is taken to court, one of the areas a court will look at is what investment has been put into training - how often are lifeguards trained for example, have they got a qualification, and what is your health and safety culture," says Whittall.

"I think if you're cutting training costs, it's actually saying that your health and safety culture isn't as important to you as it ought to be. It sends out all those concern messages about what a company is doing," he warns.

In addition, comments Impact British Training Solutions managing director Amanda Brewer, cutting back on training for health club and personal training professionals would have a negative effect on levels of instruction, staff recruitment and retention and, worryingly, the reputation of the industry as a whole.

"It's likely that the current financial crisis will affect many industries, including ours; however, I would say that it's a false economy to cut back on the quality training that this region dearly needs," asserts Brewer.

"Many of our clients will attest that well-trained staff, such as skilled personal trainers and group fitness instructors, actually generate huge revenues.

"The UAE is a tourist destination and those coming here want services that are to a high international standard, and investment in staff training is essential to deliver this," she points out.

"If the UAE is to keep its current positive and dynamic reputation as a world-class destination, then services provided will have to be kept at a high level or else it risks losing its sparkle," says Brewer.

"When it comes to the fitness industry, our hope is that there will be more demand for highly qualified and well-trained staff -to look beyond the superficial aspects and aim to be in line with the best in the modern world," she adds.

The lack of national industry legislation for fitness instructor training and qualifications in the UAE puts an even bigger onus on the operator to take responsibility for selecting adequately qualified staff and then continuing to train them."To be honest, the reason many clubs don't require staff to have recognised qualifications is because they don't have to," says Brewer, although she says that since Impact was founded seven years ago she has seen greater investment in training and an uptake in demand for its services.

Developing staff to global standards is a priority that Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina recreation manager Chris Denil has taken very seriously.

"I have a team of 90. The main courses we will be looking at in 2009 will be in requalifiying all our water sports instructors on their boat driving licence with a Royal Yacht Association (RYA) accredited affiliation," says Denil.

I am sure all areas within the hotel will have to minimise spending and only focus on need-to-haves. But one area I will never cut out is safety.

He adds that while all 33 of the property's lifeguards have a National Pool Lifeguard Qualification from the RLSS, there are plans to have 50% of the lifeguard team qualified in the RLSS National Beach Lifeguard qualification by the end of the year.

"The lifeguard's supervisor will complete his Trainer Assessor RLSS certification enabling him to train and assess lifeguard qualifications," adds Denil.

He acknowledges, however, that "we will have to cut back on certain training expenses" because of the global financial crisis.

"I am sure all areas within the hotel will have to minimise spending and only focus on need-to-haves. One area I will never cut out is safety," says Denil.

He also advises that if you can't afford to send staff on external courses, to focus on delivering ongoing in house training; for example the lifeguards have two training sessions per week focusing on fitness and lifesaving skills and weekly training schedules for all staff are logged.

"The importance of continuous in-house training is vital to keep skills at a high level. It's great to send all staff to receive their qualifications but it is more important to keep driving training within the department on a continuous basis," says Denil.

In 2009, he explains that his focus will be on training staff in "guest problem resolution".

"We want the staff to take ownership of guest problems and to have the empowerment to solve the guest problem," says Denil.

"The problem should be solved by the staff member who has the first contact with the guest. It's amazing how creative the staff can be when given the empowerment to turn an upset guest into an overwhelmed guest."

While the impact of the credit crisis on health clubs, sports centres and hotel recreation facilities in this region is still relatively unknown, at least that gives leisure managers some time to prepare their training strategies and assess their priorities.

According to the experts, the message is simple: where possible continue to enrol as many staff as possible on courses with globally-recognised certifications and in all cases, ensure every staff member benefits from a regular, tailored and monitored in-house training scheme.

And finally, above all, invest whatever it takes to ensure health and safety procedures are run at the highest possible level. Failure to do so could cost you hundreds of dollars, rather than saving you a handful of cents.

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