We Need to Set the Standard for Licensing Legislation

We Need to Set the Standard for Licensing Legislation

There has been much discussion and debate about the likelihood of legislation being enacted that would require the licensing of personal trainers and the desirability of this eventuality to the club industry.

From what I’ve read, it appears that the umbrella organizations of our industry are against requiring licensing. It is from this position that I respectfully dissent. I believe that licensing is much needed and would be positive for the industry.

I implore these organizations to re-deploy their lobbying efforts. Instead of trying to defeat this legislation, they should endeavor to ensure their own participation in the licensing process.

Our industry organizations should work with legislators to formulate legislation providing that certifications from agencies recommended by them would become the criteria for obtaining a license. States don’t know how to measure competency in the fitness field. They need industry groups to provide them with standards.

This is commonly done for licenses that require achievement of a de minimis level of substantive expertise. For example, in the state of New York, attorneys are required to be licensed. The condition for obtaining the license is passing the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) exam. The NYSBA, a voluntary nonprofit association of lawyers, fashions an exam, and the New York state legislature respects this exam as an appropriate testing authority. The state does not itself attempt to determine or quantify the level of substantive expertise needed to practice law. They instead rely on the NYSBA to make this determination.

Similarly, professional organizations in the club industry should compile a list of competent certification agencies, and the legislation should provide that obtaining a certification from any of these recommended agencies would be deemed sufficient proof of the education needed to get a license.

A license serves two important purposes. One, it assures that the recipient has achieved a de minimis level of expertise; and second, it provides location information in the event the licensee engages in some form of malpractice and needs to be sued.

I have had the appalling experience of seeing people who hold themselves out as personal trainers, who themselves have not had any professional training at all, and who know absolutely nothing about fitness and training. They have duped customers into paying to train them. Not only are they not helping these clients, but they pose them substantial risk. Under current New York state law, or rather the lack of it, these faux trainers are not breaking any laws, or engaging in any impermissible act. This really should be changed.

I have heard arguments that a licensing requirement would increase the cost of labor, making it more difficult for club owners to make a living, and that licensing could make the cost of a club membership too high for many people.

I appreciate the need for a low-cost fitness product. But this can be achieved by limiting the breadth and quantity of service. There needn’t be a limit on the quality of service. Cost-cutting shouldn’t be achieved by employing trainers who are uneducated.

If all trainers were required to get certified, the incremental cost of obtaining a license would be minimal. There is indeed a cost associated with getting a certification, as there is with any good educational process. But licensure beyond certification would be merely a filing fee.

Further, I think the concept of containing costs by keeping remuneration low for our industry professionals is a flawed one. Trainers are the conduits of our services—our agents for making money from the public. In this respect, I believe we are best served by having the smartest people represent us.

Instead of using our lobbying efforts to defeat licensing legislation, we should endeavor to become an integral component of the legislation.

Elaine Platt is the owner of Smart Workout, a fitness center in New York City. She holds an MBA from New York University Stern School of Business, a JD from Boston University School of Law, and an LLM in corporate law and an LLM in tax from New York University Graduate School of Law.

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