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🎺 jazz hands
when do micro credentials exploit?
Two words: Flip fusion.
Two taps: to get the “ha ha” reaction in the group chat. HA HA! 🤣
Lamenting the prospect of another pseudo-shut down and the continued suspension of real life, a girlfriend jokes about a new and lonely looking Jazzercise studio near her home. Gyrating in leotards together feels like a surreal fantasy.
An all-caps poster in the window lists: DANCE MIX, INTERVAL, FLIP FUSION, STRIKE FUSION, STRENGTH, CORE.”
Deranged from doom scrolling, I’m fascinated by FLIP FUSION.
It felt important because it was a reminder of how many workout brands are franchises. Which means that the names of their workouts may be proprietary. Which also means that in order to open gyms that offer these classes and/or teach them, people “have to” or are suggested to be licensed (pay rents).
The more I thought about it, the more I became concerned about a sort of profound exploitation that fitness instructors must navigate as independent contractors. They are at the mercy of private and non-profit providers that determine the terms and pricing of their workout-specific certification.
*I’ve looked at personal trainers before, in the context of their digital displacement.
A better examination of the regulatory environment that moderates (or doesn’t) their micro-credentialled minefield is relevant to ongoing policy conversations about the “future of work,” which risks becoming cluttered with privately-offered mini-credentials that are overly burdensome to obtain and maintain. They may be challenging for individuals to navigate and judge their utility and transferability, and they tend to be delivered through private providers.
Let’s be real, it’s a wild west of sorts. And because these workers tend to be independent contractors, I think it’s especially pertinent for policymakers to care about their increasingly arbitrary voluntary credentialing environment.
There’s a line between smartly capturing value from intellectual property and just being scammy to facilitate scarcity.
The pricing seems strange and haphazardly set. Here are some quick examples:
Boxing - Boxing Canada: Surprisingly affordable to become a certified coach, seems like the course registration is $150.
Crossfit - Level 1 training is $1,235 CAD, re-testing is $185. It’s a 2-day course.
Pilates - extremely variable and can be studio-specific. I found an example of a Halifax studio charging between $2,000-$5,500 for teacher training. Reformer classes seem to be up to $8,000.
Yoga - there are “Registered Yoga Schools,” and training seems to start at about $4,000.
This is not an exhaustive list of the variability of these certifications. Some are more onerous than others (what is up with pilates?) Also, what does the training accomplish? Presumably it weeds out competitors and maintains a sense of elite-ness?
Back to Jazzercise: as instructor, you pay a one-time fee of $1250, can obtain annual insurance through Jazzercise, and then you pay an annual instructor franchise fee of $120.
Gym owners and instructors/coaches seem particularly vulnerable to un- or under- regulated credential and membership expectations that seem a little less related to establishing true expertise and more related to enriching people that had the foresight and gumption to seek intellectual property rights on body movements.
For me, this raises a ton of questions, like:
Are the training expectations proportional to the role? Who decides, how?
Is the credential provincial, national, or international?
When do these qualification regimes become unreasonable?
What are the repercussions for advertising that you teach one of these methods without being certified? Seems to be enforced pretty unevenly.
Does the average person receiving fitness training care or know about these credentials?
Are women disproportionately affected by these pricing schemes?
Are these programs eligible for the Canada Training Benefit? Why or why not?
Is the pricing proportional to the earnings that someone can command/year?
Is it truly necessary to recertify every year?
Is the data on the holders of these certifications shared?
Are these workers being displaced, replaced by virtual options?
If they are, how is the state supporting their transition to other forms of work?
If it's not, then how should it?
What should policymakers do about it?
My BFF the Competition Bureau has guidance on Self Regulated Professions - Balancing Competition and Regulation. When do these non-profit, movement-specific certifications tip from being constructive to predatory?
The training requirements for workers is also relevant to their mobility. President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy pledges to “make it easier to change jobs and help raise wages by banning or limiting…cumbersome occupational licensing requirements that impede economic mobility.” For fitness instructors, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of geographic limitation, unless someone opts for a studio-specific credential.
Not all training can or should be provided by the post-secondary system - I get it. Where there is a lack of [reliable, impartial] oversight over a credentialing regime, perhaps there is a role for the state to regulate pricing - setting a ceiling and a floor, and also monitoring the random time requirements associated with various creds.
We should also ensure that the people that choose to pursue these programs are eligible for retraining tax credits.
In a way, it makes me think that even credentials are sort of moving to a subscription model. It’s like no one owns anything anymore, and now we are licensing out credentials annually - but why not monthly (JK)?
The opportunity to participate in credentialed labour is skewing towards a subscription model, which means people have to maintain those credentials into eternity. Government should think about whether that is appropriate.
We need a comprehensive inventory of all these requirements across provincially regulated professions. There is currently no framework for how all of these pieces fit together.
Most of these micro-credentials seem subject to industry-led oversight
The space is unregulated, the credentials are voluntary with standards set by the industry and/or IP holders;
Policymakers should ensure eligibility for tax credits that support training programs;
The optimal regulatory burden here isn’t clear - borne entirely by the individual, and unclear risk to the consumer. Some check/balance seems useful, but otherwise silly.
Largely earned by the patent or trademark holders (e.g. Jazzercise)
In theory, someone can earn more if they have this particular credential - but if the credential is arbitrary and the market doesn’t demand it, then maybe it shouldn’t exist. Flip the fusion!
Vass Bednar is the Executive Director of McMaster University’s new Master of Public Policy in Digital Society Program and a Public Policy Forum Fellow.