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People making a difference

Our head of workforce development analyses the results of the CIMSPA Workforce Insight Report and looks at the trends, opportunities and challenges among those working or volunteering to keep the country moving.

9th November 2023

by Niall Judge
Head of workforce development, Sport England

People. When I think about sport and physical activity, my mind is always on the people that are supporting others to be active.

That might be a coach, a friend, a lifeguard or perhaps a receptionist that sets you on your journey to accessing a class.

Without them, sport and physical activity could not happen.

No more acutely was this so than during the Coronavirus pandemic and the passion of millions of people that enabled sport and physical activity to return; a passion that remains to this day among those who continue to give up their time and/or dedicate their careers to help others be active.

Celebrating the positive trends

The latest data around the workforce from the newly released Workforce Insight report from CIMSPAUK Coaching’s ‘Coaching in the UK’ report and our very own Active Lives reportare all showing shoots of positivity, such as an increase in trust and confidence of coaches and a strong demonstration of the transferable skills developed by working in our sector.

Through all of these we are seeing the number of people involved in volunteering, coaching and employment through sport and physical activity recovering and, in some cases, even beginning to grow.

When I think about sport and physical activity, my mind is always on the people that are supporting others to be active.

This gives us some confidence in the effectiveness of the government’s retention schemes through the pandemic and the impact of the re-training and deployment efforts that were so central to supporting the workforce in being able to deliver again.

Key to all of this was our investment; Retrain to Retain, which we used to support CIMSPA, EMD UK and UK Coaching to minimise the loss of the skills and experience needed as we moved people from lockdown to recovery and movement.

It is encouraging to see that increased emphasis on skill development. But whilst there are common skill sets, we need to increase our understanding and support of the different abilities and talents required for different roles, and how these manifests themselves within a place.

This very much aligns with taking a place-based and community-led approach to enabling sport and physical activity to happen, as they ensure the workforce has the right skills and opportunities to answer its local needs.

This is something that is at the very core of our commitment within our long-term strategy, Uniting the Movementbut it’s also critical in our recent investment into CIMSPA with the establishment of the Local Skills Hubs, driven by local organisations and the workforce.

The challenges ahead

We are still seeing a real lack of diversity within the workforce, showing that we still have some way to go in our ambition to be truly reflective of society and the places in which we live and work.

Commitment to change means taking action and recruiting more people from diverse and under-represented backgrounds into senior and management roles, as this will contribute towards our mission to encourage more of the population to move more.

The lack of diversity across age, gender, disability and ethnicity is also more acute among occupations in our sector than those across the wider UK economy.  

For example, 13% of the sport and physical activity workforce report having a disability, compared with a national average of 16% across all occupations, and 87% are white British compared to 77% of all occupations.

While the report recommends building better talent-retention strategies and clearer career pathways, these efforts need to be looked at through the lens of the lived experiences of people under-represented in our workforce so we can understand and respond to the specific challenges they face.

We must also guard against complacency when it comes to the millions of sports coaches who provide activity sessions for others.

Our own consultation with coaches and instructors across the sector showed worrying signs of a workforce that is feeling undervalued, overwhelmed, demotivated and unsupported by the increased demands of their role.

We need to provide better support while, at the same time, ensuring every coach can be properly identified as being ‘safe to practice’.

Put simply, we must collectively make a stronger effort to engage, involve and empower more people, from more places, to be part of the workforce and make the space much more open and accessible to all.

From all of this, I have hope that we are moving in the right direction and that shoots we see now can soon blossom.

But we cannot take the sport and physical activity workforce for granted and we must ensure we give great experiences, support, opportunities and recognition to all of those that enable others to be active.


The CIMSPA Workforce Insight report and data covers the UK and the workforce in England makes up the majority of the UK workforce, so the trends, positives and challenges identified in the workforce insight report and this blog apply to England.

However, the data for England only is available here:

Find out more

CIMSPA Insight Hub

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