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Sport and Active Leisure

The Job Market

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  • In 2008 2% of all the UK work force - 615,000 people - worked in sport and leisure
  • 94% of the workforce are employed in small and micro businesses
  • More than half of the total workforce are employed in sport and recreation which had 371,800 employees in 2008. The next biggest group is playwork at 146,700 followed by 51,500 in health and fitness, then 41,700 employed in the caravan industry and the lowest number is 26,400 in the outdoors industry
  • The majority of the workforce - 89% - are employees and 11% are self-employed, which is similar to the English workforce as a whole with 13% self-employed
  • Overall sport and leisure has a significantly higher proportion of part-time workers - 52% compared to 26% across England as a whole
  • Five million volunteers also work in the sector and more are needed. The volunteer workforce in the sector work primarily as coaches, teachers, instructors and activity leaders, but also include playworkers and members of voluntary committees in the playwork industry
  • Jobs which are more difficult to fill - both for voluntary and paid opportunities include, sporting officials, coaches and instructors
  • The most over-represented groups are those classified as managers in hospitality and leisure, teaching professionals, sports and fitness occupations, childcare and related personal services and leisure and travel service occupations, and elementary personal service occupations
  • There are an estimated 39,800 sport and leisure organisations including over 6,000 leisure centres and health clubs in the UK
  • There are job opportunities with local authorities, private leisure centres and health and fitness clubs, mainly in towns and cities but also in some rural areas. Private clubs include those in hotels, the workplaces of large organisations and holiday centres
  • The sector has benefited from increased investment through the National Lottery, as well as through events such as the forthcoming 2012 Olympics in London. The government is also placing a greater emphasis on sport and exercise as a way of helping people to keep fit and healthy.


  • There are over 75,000 qualified lifeguards in the UK, working in public swimming pools, leisure centres, schools, colleges, hotels, holiday centres and private fitness centres
  • There are also around 1,000 beach lifeguards. Most are employed by local authorities or private companies to cover local beaches
  • Many more people work as pool lifeguards than on beaches, and around 5% of lifeguards are self-employed
  • There are some opportunities to work abroad with holiday companies.

Outdoor Activities

  • There are 1,100 licensed providers of outdoor activities in the UK (plus many other providers who do not require a licence), and more than 30,000 instructors and trainers, of whom about 75% are volunteers. This is a growing industry, although there is still strong competition for jobs
  • There are a few large companies with centres across the UK, but the majority of instructors are employed by small centres with ten staff or fewer. There are also opportunities to work at leisure centres and with expedition companies which organise overseas trips
  • Many instructors are freelance, either working for centres on contract, or directly with clients such as youth groups and companies who want to train their staff.

Professional Sport

  • There are around 50,000 professional sportspeople in the UK. Most are spotted at an early age by coaches or scouts. They may progress through school or local clubs and get invited to take part in a trial before competing at county, regional or junior national level
  • Most established sports have a national governing (or representative) body (NGB) that can provide information on local clubs and the best way to progress in the sport. NGBs are listed on the Sports England website.

Sports Coach

  • Around 1.6 million people are involved in some kind of coaching activity in the UK, most on a voluntary basis
  • Around 355,000 people are paid to coach but of these just 78,000 do so full time. Many work for several different clubs or teams
  • Competition for full-time coaching jobs is fierce. Increased interest in health and fitness is likely to lead to an increase in demand especially with the approach of the 2012 Olympics in London
  • Many coaches find work by word of mouth and through contacts at local authorities and NGBs.

Source: Sector Skills Assessment - Active Leisure, Learning and Well-being: UK 2010, Skills Needs Assessment - England 2005, Skills Needs Assessment - Wales 2005, Skills Needs Assessment - Scotland 2005 and Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland 2005.