OVER THE PAST eight years, Hong Kong has endured an economic recession, a property bust, high unemployment and the Sars epidemic. All of these have combined to dampen consumer confidence and many businesses have suffered as a result. But the fitness training industry has defied this trend, with new fitness centres and opportunities for staff popping up more abundantly than a bodybuilder's muscles. 'There is a greater public awareness of fitness as the industry is moving from a fitness industry to a 'wellness' industry as people become concerned about changing to a healthier lifestyle,' said Sebastian Gordon, general manager at Seasons Fitness. In addition to continued expansion, this awareness is leading to two major shifts in the fitness industry. There is now greater selectivity in hiring trainers and also - while core gym facilities are retained - diversification to activities beyond mere exercise, such as beauty care and even food and beverage outlets. Today, there are opportunities for a variety of professionals not usually associated with fitness centres. The strong demand for trainers continues but gone are the days when an enthusiast could be hired for the job on the strength of his or her interest in working out. 'People are far more knowledgeable than before, so they want a trainer who knows what he or she is doing and can demonstrate that knowledge,' Mr Gordon said. While the major players are getting more selective about their new trainers, there is no single certificate or degree which is regarded as a standard qualification. Pure Fitness chief executive Colin Grant said: 'When we look to hire training staff, we benchmark the person's qualifications. There is not a single specific qualification we are looking for. We evaluate the applicant's qualifications on a case-by-case basis.' Connie Cheung, regional human resources team leader at California Fitness Centre, agrees. 'By looking at an applicant's background, we can fit them into different trainer categories allocating their responsibilities accordingly.' The common denominators for all applicants are a passion for fitness, a commitment to service, and the ability to function as part of a team. Pure Fitness articulates these requirements succinctly as the 'Pure PATH' where P stands for passion, A for attitude, T for teamwork and H for honesty. Jacqui Parker, national operations manager at Fitness First, said: 'We are looking for people who have a healthy attitude, who are team players and [who] want to succeed, as our emphasis is heavy on teamwork and our management style is goal-oriented.' Mr Gordon said, 'No matter whether the employee is the receptionist, a cleaner or a trainer, there is an overriding need to provide service.' Credentials are becoming increasingly important for trainers who are now realising how vital continuous training and professional education are when it comes to their career development. 'We are looking for trainers who are dedicated to education to expand their area of competence and to pass on their knowledge to our clients. We prefer a person with two years' experience and a record of enrolling in training courses themselves to someone with 10 years of experience but little interest in undergoing training,' Mr Gordon said. Ms Cheung said: 'In addition to offering a one-week, in-house professional fitness course to all employees, we also offer a course by our international partner, the Asian Academy for Sports and Fitness Professionals, which includes an examination.' With such rapid growth in the industry, there is ample opportunity for career advancement. 'A fitness trainer can be promoted to assistant fitness manager within two years, and to fitness manager overseeing 30 to 45 fitness trainers in another year,' Ms Cheung said. Equally there is room to grow at Seasons Fitness. Mr Gordon said: 'A fitness assistant can be promoted to a trainer, and there are opportunities for our trainers, cleaning personnel and therapists at Langham Hotel and Langham Place.' WORKING OUT Many new career opportunities at fitness centres as the industry is still in growth stage. Trainer applicants should have qualifications, certified either locally or internationally. A commitment to service is required, as well as a passion for exercise. As fitness centres evolve into lifestyle locales, opportunities for yoga teachers, food and beverage personnel and therapists are increasing.