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A licence to work.

In many parts of the world, it is becoming widespread practice to require a licence to hold certain jobs. Our family in Canada had to get a business license to operate their construction firm, and other members of the family had to get a license to be real-estate agents.

In the UK many jobs aren’t regulated like this unless you are a doctor, or a lawyer. These jobs have licensing and registration schemes and are “professional” jobs.

There have been discussions in sports and fitness for licensing and registration of coaches and fitness trainers for some time. In 2019 The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) undertook a consultation about registration and regulation of the sector.

This consultation was carried out on behalf of Sport England and a little-known organisation called Sporting People.

We need licenses for many things to demonstrate we are competent, such as driving a car.

What is the big deal if we want to license people to work? That means people will be properly qualified, competent, and we can do background checks to make sure they are safe to be around. Anything that makes us safer has got to be good, right?

It is true that in many professions licensing is a way to ensure certain standards are met. However, that did not stop Harold Shipman from killing his patients over several years. Nor did it stop Andrew Wakefield from spreading false information about the safety of the MMR vaccine. Bernie Madoff was a licensed stockbroker who ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

It is also true that in the fitness sector there are practitioners peddling pseudo-science and even dangerous nonsense. All to appeal to social media fuelled desires to look like a cover model. It makes sense that having a licensing and registration scheme would weed out these snake oil peddlers. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Let’s not forget, Sport England is publicly funded, and where there are public funds involved, politicians can meddle. Where politicians meddle, the unintended consequences follow.

Organisations like CIMSPA continue to push for regulation and licensing so they can become the gatekeepers to the job market.

The larger players in the market can easily absorb the costs while smaller businesses are put under increasing financial pressure. As seen in other markets this leads to cronyism, and lobbing of politicians to introduce more regulations, that slowly squeeze out the small businesses and creating powerful cartels.

Educational requirements set by government-mandated licensing bodies often impose years of costly, pointless study, while neglecting to ensure practitioners have the skills, they need to be safe and effective. It is far better to allow for innovation in education which drives up standards, creates new methodologies and leads to adoption of best practices.

A self-regulating market does a far better job of weeding out unsafe, unqualified, and unprofessional practitioners than government mandated licensing does (as per the examples above).

Market regulation keeps driving value and improving quality because there is competition to win business. If practitioners only do what is required by mandate, what incentive is there to improve?

Then you have the bottleneck created by licensing. Placing barriers to entry means fewer people will want to pay the price for the required courses, and potentially limited the numbers entering the workforce. This will drive up costs for the consumer, due to supply and demand economics.

CIMSPA itself has a code of conduct which means speaking out on certain topics might land you in hot water. If you are censured or expelled and they control access to the market, then you may never work again. Many have discussed the issue of trans athletes in sport in private but speaking out publicly may leave you unable to earn a living.

CIMSPA’s consultation was not successful in persuading people that workforce regulation and licensing would achieve its goal, but I expect, like many things in politics, we have not seen the last of this idea.

A better and more libertarian approach is to have consumers vote with their wallet. Just as coaches and fitness professionals should vote with their wallet, when it comes to investing in their education and development.

Those who are any good will set the stage and drive-up quality. Those that don’t will find out that the market doesn’t tolerate practitioners who don’t offer value, safety and quality. Customer feedback and poor reviews are the ultimate measure of how good a practitioner is, regardless of what certificates or licenses they hold.

Rob Ede - Wessex Coordinator