If you employ trainers, eventually the question arises: "Should I provide them with continuing education, or should I expect that they find it on their own" Regardless of whether your trainers are independent contractors or employees, it is your duty as a leader to not only continue to educate them on the latest techniques, research and knowledge but also keep them on the cutting edge.
Continuing education is important because it will help raise the "knowledge bar” within your business, and it fosters teamwork and communicates that you are interested in the growth and development of your team. But how do you best implement this practice to most effectively get the best financial return on your education dollars?

Don't provide education for some trainers and not for others. I made this mistake one time and invited only my training manager to a conference. It turned out that the other trainers felt slighted. For the same price I spent on airfare and travel expenses, I could have hired an educator to come to our location to educate my entire training staff. To reduce costs even further, consider teaming with other trainers, groups or facilities in your area and hiring a speaker together.

Get the best return on your investment. If you spend money to provide continuing education for your trainers and they leave the following week, you have wasted money, and they have taken their gained knowledge elsewhere. If we pay for continuing education, we require the trainers use that knowledge with us for at least six months, otherwise the cost comes out of their final paycheck. That policy is clearly communicated before the education, and the trainers sign a document in agreement. 

Lay out your exact expectations. Nothing can be more frustrating than paying for education that your trainers don't show up to! In addition to communicating that the education is mandatory, address other issues that may be unclear. For example, do you want your trainers to wear their uniforms to the sessions? Do you require they attend all the sessions at a conference or just some that you choose?

Outline what you would like your trainers to do at the conference or education session. We require that our trainers attend all the sessions and take notes. Upon returning to work, we review the main learning points that each trainer took away. We share our thoughts, comments and insights from the conference in a meeting. Then we decide as a group what new ideas, techniques or strategies we will implement into our training system.

Outline action steps that you should implement from the session. Choose either two or three key points learned from the continuing education session and outline them in a detailed standard operating procedure. Review the new procedures, and create a checklist to hold your trainers accountable to your new procedures. If you skip this step, the training was just for fun and not a financial return on your hard-earned dollars.

Choose seminars and conferences wisely. There are many continuing educations in our marketplace. Find training sessions that support your current mission, and make sure that you communicate the reason that you chose them to your trainers. When your staff understands why they are there and what they are expected to take away, they'll be more likely to absorb key ideas to move your organization in the direction you intend.

Offer continuing education on a shoestring budget with in-house sessions. At our staff meeting each month, our Director of Athletic Performance does a presentation on a new topic, which often includes input and demonstrations from the other trainers. This fosters a team atmosphere and creates a hands-on learning opportunity for the entire staff. A monthly or biweekly in-house training is sufficient in the beginning. Questions, comments and concerns come to the surface from the trainers that you may not have heard otherwise.

Finding Education Worth the Time and Money
All of the personal training governing bodies provide education and CEUs. See the resources list for a few examples. Other entities provide stellar education as well. Here are some noteworthy names and forward-thinking organizations:

• Power Systems Total Training Seminars - Taught by a team of experts, these one-day seminars at locations around the country zero in on leading-edge training techniques. www.totaltrainingseminars.com

• Perform Better Seminars - This company gathers some of the best minds in the fitness industry and creates great one- to three-day events. www.performbetter.com 

• Juan Carlos Santana - Anytime Juan speaks, you should listen. One of the most amazing educators in our field, he takes complex concepts and teaches them in simple, usable terms. www.ihpfit.com 

• Mike Boyle - Mike is one of the most knowledgeable strength coaches in the nation. www.bodybyboyle.com 

• Phil Kaplan - No one understands the state of our industry and promotes forward-thinking practices and development better than industry legend Phil Kaplan. www.philkaplan.com 

Whether you implement a consistent in-house continuing education program or seek to find outside sources of increased knowledge, if you simply outline your training expectations, implement two or three of the new ideas and hold yourself and your trainers accountable, you can quickly raise the morale and the professionalism of your trainers.

Cliff Latham (www.clifflatham.com) is the President of Cutting Edge Seminars, a corporate consulting and training company that specializes in stress recovery and wellness applications promoting productivity, premier health, energy and life balance. He earned advanced exercise physiology and sports nutrition degrees, owned a training studio for eight years and has more than 22 years experience as a fitness and weight loss expert, university professor, strength coach and track and field coach. Contact Cliff at 979.695.6400.