In 2009, all American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certification subcommittees initiated a periodic review of their respective certification examinations. The process starts with what is known as a Job Task Analysis (JTA). Briefly, the development of a JTA begins with the formation of a panel of experts in the field. The panel consists of members of the respective ACSM certification subcommittees. In addition, currently practicing professionals were asked to join the respective subcommittees, ACSM Certified Personal TrainersSM (CPTs), and ACSM Certified Health Fitness SpecialistsSM (HFSs) on a temporary basis to increase the number of content experts for the JTA process.
Development of the JTA defines the job and describes what the professional does step-by-step on a day-to-day basis. From that, a definition of the job is created, often very similar to the scope of practice. JTAs contain performance-based domains (what might often be referred to as critical aspects of the profession) from which specific knowledge and skill statements arise. We know them best as "KSAs" (knowledge, skills and abilities). When the new JTAs are published, with subsequent knowledge and skill statements, there will not be associated abilities. Because we cannot "assess" ability from a computer-based test, these performance indicators are not part of the JTA.
In late December 2009, the respective JTAs were made available through an electronic link to all ACSM-certified professionals. All professionals currently certified by ACSM were invited to participate in the validation process at their highest level of professional practice. Electronic surveys were sent to more than 6,000 ACSM CPTs, more than 8,000 ACSM HFSs, more than 2,500 ACSM Clinical Exercise Specialists (CESs), and nearly 700 ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologists® (RCEPs). Industry-wide, survey return rates of 10% or greater are considered acceptable for purposes of survey validation, whereas return rates of 20% or greater are optimal. Because of overwhelming participation from so many ACSM-certified professionals, all four of the JTAs (CPT, HFS, CES, and RCEP) exceeded both minimally as well as optimal return rates for either partially or fully completed surveys. The JTA survey results provide validation (or not) of the major job tasks or aspects of the job and a significant amount of demographic information regarding our current certified professionals. Job tasks are rated for their importance as well as frequency in performing various aspects of the profession.
Based upon the JTA and psychometric analysis, the blueprint for the JTA is developed. The blueprint is a weighted scale grouping the various performance domains upon which a framework for updating the certification examination is developed. Blueprints provide a guide for individuals preparing for the certification examinations regarding the percentage of total examination questions from each of the major performance domains, such as client assessment, exercise prescription, and programming. Blueprints for all current ACSM certification examinations are available in many locations including the certification link at the ACSM home page under www.acsm.org/certification. When the ACSM certification examinations are finally updated, new examination blueprints will be made available to all candidates in this same manner.
Results of all of the validation surveys were very interesting, although many members may not be surprised by the results at all. Most ACSM CPTs and HFSs have Bachelor's of Science (B.S.) degrees. Surprisingly, 74.3% of CPTs have B.S. degrees or higher despite the fact that it is a non-degree-requiring certification. In addition, 84% of HFS certified professionals have a B.S./M.S. degree, and when those with a Ph.D./Ed.D. are added, that percentage increases to 90%. In addition, most CPTs are younger than 35 years (≥60%), most HFS certified professionals (>50.7%) are older than 35 years. Although both the CPT and HFS certified professionals work in a wide variety of settings, greater than 50% of CPTs work in health clubs/fitness facilities or as independent contractors, whereas most HFSs (>50%) work in health clubs/fitness facilities, medical fitness facilities, and in corporate fitness environments. Most of the CPTs report working with mainly apparently healthy individuals, children, adults, older adults, and pregnant women. However, significant percentages do report working with individuals who have coronary artery disease (CAD), diabetes, pulmonary disease, musculoskeletal disorders, or who are obese.
The CPT survey respondents also reported that a significant and frequent part of their job involves client education, education in behavioral strategies, and motivational techniques. These results suggest that behavior change is an ever-increasingly important aspect of the job of health and fitness professionals, and this increased importance will be reflected in future certification examinations.
In terms of the ACSM HFSs, most also report working with apparently healthy individuals including children, adolescents, older adults, and pregnant women. Other special population groups frequently cited by HFS professionals include those with CAD, the obese, and those with musculoskeletal limitations. Not surprisingly, whereas more than 25% of CPTs are employed full time or report receiving benefits, between 40% and 50% of HFS certified professionals report full-time employment and benefits. This is an important distinction between the CPT and HFS certified professionals. Those HFSs responding to the survey were asked to rate critical aspects of their jobs indicating both the importance as well as the frequency of a specific task. The task of providing client education regarding permanent behavior change as well as motivational strategies was graded as a very important, as well as a frequent, component of the profession.
In addition, there does seem to be some reported distinctions between the CPT and HFS certified professionals in terms of participation in various aspects of management. These include for the HFS, participation in the establishment of program policies and procedures, exercise program development, and implementation and program evaluation for apparently healthy individuals and those with controlled disease. Whereas these results represent a fraction of the total results from validation of all of the four ACSM certifications (CPT, HFS, CES, RCEP), they represent information that was obtained through a credible and psychometrically sound validation process. These validated JTAs will provide the foundation for updating respective certification examinations and more importantly, represent insight into state-of-the-art practice as well as a forward look at the future professional development of the ACSM CPTs and HFSs.