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Sector Information

SkillsActive is the Sector Skills Council for the active leisure, learning and well-being sector, which includes five sub-sectors or industries:

  • sport and recreation
  • health and fitness
  • playwork
  • outdoors
  • caravans

    Employment and future employment

    In 2008, there were 615,000 people in paid employment in the sector across the UK, accounting for almost 2% of the UK workforce.

    In addition, there are an estimated 5 million volunteers in the sector across the UK and much of the sector would find it difficult to operate without the help of unpaid staff. An estimated further 1.3 million volunteers are needed.

    There are an estimated 39,800 organisations throughout the UK in sector, but this is considered to be an under estimate. 94% of the workforce are employed in small and micro businesses. In England, the sector has an estimated gross value added (GVA) output of £7.2 billion, 61% of which was produced by the sport and recreation industry. The outdoors was the smallest industry creating £365 million of output. Overall, the active leisure, learning and well-being sector accounts for 0.9% of total output in England.

    89% of the workforce in England are employees and 11% self-employed, which is similar to the English workforce as a whole with 13% self-employed. However, this can vary by industry. For example the caravan industry has 16% self-employment. The sector overall does have a significantly higher proportion of part-time workers – 52% compared to 26% across England as a whole.

    Over the next 10 years, it is predicted that the sector will grow faster than the economy as a whole. It is forecast that by 2014, employment levels in England will have increased by 100,000, an increase of 21%. The sector will also have to recruit 85,000 annually to cope with replacement demand.

    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

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    Recruitment difficulties and skills issues

    Particular recruitment difficulties and skills issues facing employers in the sports, fitness and outdoors industries, with particular job roles considered hard-to-fill:

    • Sporting officials (paid and voluntary)
    • Coaches, teachers, instructors and activity leaders (paid and voluntary)
    • Operational help (volunteers)

    The most common skills in need of improvement amongst existing staff were identified as: sport specific technical skills; communication; management; and child protection.

    Source: Sector Skills Assessment – Active Leisure, Learning and Well-being: UK 2010

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    Future drivers

    Consumer trends:

    • In sport and recreation, the development of ‘physical literacy’ at an early age, promotion by sporting success in the media, medals won by sporting heroes, as well as individual influences.
    • The government has set out ambitious targets for sport in the lead up to and beyond the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The key aim is to increase participation and build a high-performance system that will support international success.
    • In health and fitness, over the last ten years there has been a rise in fitness activities in private health clubs or at sports clubs with added fitness facilities, unrelated to competitive sports or games, resulting from a general increase in disposable income and feeling of affluence.
    • For the outdoors, the 2012 Games will drive demand for training camp facilities, which the outdoors industry could exploit.
    • For the caravan sector, consumer demand drivers include customer holiday aspirations, customer expectations, the UK weather and the media image of caravanning. The potential success of the caravan industry is closely linked to the housing market and to consumer spending.
    • In playwork, there is a growing recognition of the value of free play in children’s development with parents wanting their children to enjoy more experiences from a younger age.

    Government drivers:

    • The government’s “Children’s Plan” announced funding for 4,000 playworkers to achieve a level 3 qualification and also promised a programme of continuous professional development for leaders and managers in the sector.
    • The launch of “Fair Play”, the first ever play strategy, committing to invest £235 million over the next three years to develop up to 3,500 public play areas, whilst supporting pathfinders to develop 30 adventure playgrounds or play parks aimed at 8-13 year-olds in disadvantaged areas.
    • Local government priorities are often focused on early years and childcare. The value of playwork is not recognised and is only just starting to receive the recognition it needs.
    • The government intends that outdoor learning, including school visits, should be part of every pupil’s experience.
    • The UK Public Health White Paper ‘Choosing Health: Making healthy choices easier’ and the accompanying physical activity action plan (Choosing Activity) is aimed at marketing and promoting healthy lifestyles through the voluntary and independent sector.
    • Increased investment in physical education (PE) and school sport, and improving school health generally through the National Healthy Schools initiative, including improvements in school meals.

    Sport strategies:

    • Sport England’s strategy for sport and recreation for 2008-2011 outlines plans to increase sports participation by at least one million more regular participants by 2012/13, as well as sustain participation by reducing the post-16 drop off in sport/physical activity.
    • The Scottish Sports Strategy, “Reaching Higher, Building on the Success of Sport 21” highlights the importance of sport for individuals, communities and the nation.
    • Climbing Higher and Climbing Higher – Next Steps are the Welsh Assembly Government’s (WAG) long-term strategy documents for sport and physical activity sets out the strategic direction in Wales for the next twenty years, including “more people to lead, organise and coach activity”.
    • The consultation draft for The Northern Ireland Strategy for Sport and Physical Recreation 2007-2017, sub-titled ‘A culture of lifelong enjoyment and success in sport’, incorporates physical activity and play, with explicit attention to the development of the sector’s workforce.


    • The caravan sector is influenced by national and local government, and the legislation and regulation arising from both of these.
    • For the outdoors, the main areas of legislation/regulation causing employers the most difficulty are health and safety, insurance, minibus driving, ensuring facilities are fit for purpose, employment law, planning/public rights of way and associated regulations.
    • A significant development in playwork (and some outdoors centres) has been the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage, and the new General Childcare and Early Years Registers, which have stringent qualification requirements.

    Source: Sector Skills Assessment – Active Leisure, Learning and Well-being: UK 2010

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