Ann Gilbert, director of Fitness for Shapes Total Fitness for Women, leads a team of more than 350 fitness professionals. She is a well-known presenter and has received the IHRSA/ACE Trainer of the Year award. For the past 10 years, Gilbert has served as a faculty board member for the Shapes Academy, an internal educational resource for continuing education. Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Establishing an internship for your trainers can help improve adherence to your system, create an alliance to the team, increase the understanding of your brand and improve staff retention. More than a probationary period, a well-designed internship reviews skill sets, clarifies expectations and builds a confident, revenue-producing team.
Here are 10 steps to take in putting together an internship program:
1. Update your hiring process. By adding a specific skills check and a personality assessment or screening during the hiring process, you can better assure that you will pick an intern who can grow within your system. Results from tests performed during the hiring process, as well as data that show the trainer’s strengths and weaknesses, will be helpful to the managers, instructors or master trainers who will oversee the intern.
2. Produce a manual or workbook for reference. A written manual serves as a reference for the intern, as well as a daily journal and a time-management adherence tool. This tool assures that the intern has an understanding of the club’s marketing, prospecting and sales systems. However, the manual should include more than a job description. It should include sections for daily questions, personal growth assessments and creative ideas.
3. Update your policy and procedure before starting. The entire “where, when, how, how much” of your trainer’s position can be summarized in a policy and procedure or an undated job description. Many club operators have theirs ready for the intern to view during the hiring process. Some club operators post theirs for trainers on the employee-only portion of the club’s Web site. Several of the internships that I have studied required trainers sign the policy and procedure at the start and at the end of the internship period.
4. Schedule trainer reviews. By establishing a schedule of reviews for the interning trainers, most operators find it easier to manage system adherence. Weekly reviews help determine the plan for the intern’s week, while monthly reviews help determine steps for the intern to move onto higher levels and increase their wages.
5. Set standards for continued education before starting. You should address in-house standards for continuing education with the intern. Determine whether you will pay for education for full-time trainers, whether part-timers have the same benefits package as full-time employees and which courses you will require. Courses are best outlined in tracks to assure the trainers end up with a broad base of knowledge. Recommended tracks for interning trainers include marketing, prospecting and sales. Many operators also require interns to take courses on career and personal growth, as well as business planning.
6. Decide whether to pay for the internship. You first must determine whether the intern will be part-time or full-time, then you can determine whether to offer a wage and, if so, how much to offer. Many club operators who have documented the challenges associated with a part-time trainer versus a full-time employee have determined that part-time trainers are less able to fulfill job expectations or establish themselves as contributors to team goals.
7. Spell out how you will manage adherence during the internship. To manage adherence to the program, you must first determine who is in charge of the intern and the training. Who’s the educator, the mentor, the inspector? Will your fitness manager be the go-to person, or will it be the master trainer with the most experience? Who will deliver the sales message and share the vision of the company? In many successful internships, the candidate reports to the sales director, the marketing director, the fitness manager and personal training manager. Master trainers are used for shadowing sessions and are helpful with program writing and special populations.
8. Establish the timing of the internship. When will the internship start? How long will it run? How often will you offer the internship? These questions need to be answered before getting a commitment from the intern. Many clubs restart the internship programs quarterly. Others plug in trainers as hired, sticking to the manual and inspecting the progress on an individual basis. In either case, the goal is to establish a continuous flow of new hires into your system.
9. Develop a written and practical exam to determine if the intern passed. Interns will need to complete tasks, show evidence of an increase in their skill sets and show a commitment to the team goals. Determine how you will test, document and inspect trainers during the internship and how you will incorporate the intern into your day-to-day system. By doing so, you’ll better know whether the time, energy and revenue that you invested in the intern pay off if the intern stays for the long run and produces results for you.
10. Design a system in which all trainers continue to get support and career opportunities within your walls. The answer to whether the intern will stay lies in your hands. Continue to mentor the new trainer with regular reviews and continuing educational sessions. You also need to establish a benefits package that includes reimbursement for CECs, subscriptions to online resources and follow-ups by master trainers.