Gary Horvath is a USPTA master pro, founder and past president of the USA Professional Platform Tennis Association, charter member of PPTR, a certified coach with USA Volleyball and a long-standing member of the Wilson Advisory Staff.
His experience as a tennis pro has covered the entire spectrum from grassroots to college tennis. In addition, Gary Horvath has conducted extensive business and economic research that has largely supported the state of Colorado's economic development efforts.
U.S. AND TENNIS INDUSTRY WORKFORCE CRISIS
The tennis industry has a workforce crisis!
By Gary Horvath
Changing economic conditions and evolving demographics have created significant challenges for leaders in all industries. In addition, leaders in many industries have a better understanding of workforce development principles and how to implement them than leaders in the tennis industry.
A summary of the United States economic and demographic issues facing the tennis industry follows.
Between 2001 and 2017, there was an oversupply of job applicants. In 2017, the labor supply reversed course, and there has been a shortage of job seekers since then, with the exception of 18 months during the COVID-era. What has the tennis industry done to address the shortage of qualified tennis professionals?
During the recent labor shortages, it has been necessary for businesses to recruit and fill vacant positions with workers employed by other companies, thus creating a domino effect of workers moving between companies. What can the tennis industry do to increase the number of qualified tennis professionals?
Women comprise about 47% of the labor force. Is it possible for the tennis industry to increase the number of women tennis professionals? If so, how?
The number of people in the youngest age groups is caused by lower fertility rates. In turn, there is a smaller market and greater competition for tennis players and teaching professionals. Similarly, the aging of the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and Generation X have reduced the number of potential tennis players. About 39% of the U.S. population is in the 25 to 54 age range. This category is the primary market for the workforce and the adult target market for the tennis industry. How has the tennis industry reacted to these changes in demographics?
Tight Labor Market Felt in the Tennis Industry
The data shows that between 2001 and 2017 the unemployment rate was above 4.5%. There was an oversupply of workers and an adequate supply of tennis professionals. The downturns caused by the Great Financial Crisis and the COVID-related policies were partially responsible for the oversupply of workers.
The situation changed in March 2017 when the unemployment rate dropped to 4.5%. For the next 36 months, the rate was below 4.5%.
In April 2020, the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7%. By October 2021, it returned to 4.5% and has been below that level since then. During this period, the number of USPTA memberships has declined.
The labor shortage will not go away in the near term. The October 2023 Wells Fargo U.S. Economic Forecast expects the unemployment rate to remain below 4.5% through at least 2025.
Where are Tennis Businesses Finding Tennis Professionals?
A look at Bureau of Labor Statistic job openings data and the number of unemployed tells a similar story to the analysis in the previous section. In April 2021, the economy began to pick up steam as the number of monthly U.S. job openings topped 9.1 million. Openings have been above that level since.
Chart II shows the ratio of job openings vs. the number of unemployed, a simple gauge of the supply of workers for open jobs. When the ratio is less than 1.0, the number of unemployed exceeds the number of job openings. If the ratio is more than 1.0, there is a shortage of unemployed to fill the open jobs. If the ratio is exactly 1.0, the number of unemployed workers equals the number of job openings. Equilibrium seldom happens.
By this measure, there was a shortage of applicants from February 2018 to February 2020. That changed during the pandemic. There was an oversupply of job seekers from March 2020 to April 2021. The labor shortage returned in May 2021.
Research presented at the 2023 National Association of Business Economists Conference indicated that business leaders fill only about 15% of the job openings from the unemployed. That means businesses often hire workers currently employed by other companies, creating a chain reaction of workers upgrading their positions. The best place to find a tennis professional is to look at other facilities.
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The Answer: Women's Tennis Coaches Association.
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Where are the Women Tennis Professionals?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures the number of women in the labor force in two ways.
First, the household survey, or report used to calculate the number of unemployed workers, estimates the number of women in the labor force. In September 2023, there were 72.7 million women in the U.S. Civilian labor force. (BLS says the labor force is all people 16 years and older who are working or actively looking for work.) There were 83.0 million men in the September labor force. Since 2000, approximately 47% of the U.S. labor force has been women.
In addition, the September unemployment rate for men was 4.1% and 3.4% for women. There appears is strong demand for women workers.
Second, BLS measures the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR), the percentage of the population, age 16 and over, that is either working or actively looking for work.
There are two key points in Chart III. First, the labor force participation rate for men has decreased over time and it has increased for women. Second, both rates were hit hard by COVID-related policies in 2020 and beyond and they have been slow to return. In September 2023, the LFPR for men was 67.9% and it was 55.9% for women.
Since the late 1980s, approximately 20% of the number of USPTA professionals are women. Given the number of women in the labor force and the LFPR for women, it seems logical that the percentage of women teaching professionals should be higher.
Are there reasons why there are not more certified tennis teaching professionals?
How Did the Mix of the U.S. Population Change Between 2010 and 2020?
The following nine tables address the impact that reduced fertility rates and aging have had on the mix of the U.S. population. The tables compare the population difference between 2010 and 2020 by single year for ages 0 to 84+. Areas highlighted in gold show a negative change.
The 2010 U.S. population was 309,327,143, and 2020 was 329,484,123. The difference between the two years was 20,156,980. All data in these tables is from the Census Bureau.
Youth and College Age (Ages 0 to 24) – Tables I, II, III – 31.2% of Population
The combined number of people in the three age groups declined by just over two million between 2010 and 2020.
Most likely, there are very few tennis players in Table I, ages 0 to 5; however, they are potential tennis players. The number of people in this group changed by -898,603.
Junior tennis players are in Table II, ages 6 to 17. The size of this group changed by -401,917.
Finally, college players and high school graduates are in Table III, ages 18 to 24. The number of players in this group changed by -737,108.
The Prime Years (25 to 54) – Tables IV, V, VI – 39.0% of Population
The primary years for the workforce and tennis market are ages 25 to 54. There is strong growth for ages 25 to 38 but significant declines for ages 39 to 54. The aging of Generation X and Baby Boomers has caused this decline. The total increase for the population 25 to 54 was about 1.3 million. These demographic changes affect tennis participation in its prime market.
The Aging Population (55+) – Tables VII, VIII, IX – 29.8% of Population
The population aged 55+ increased by 20.8 million between 2010 and 2020 as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and Generation X moved into older age categories. A small segment of the 55 to 64 age group are tennis players. Even fewer are in the 65 to 74 and 75+ categories.
Given the low unemployment rates, there is stiff competition for the short supply of potential workers with the athletic, intellectual, and personal skills required to be first-rate tennis teaching professionals. The tennis industry should accept this as a challenge to do a better job of attracting and retaining the best and the brightest men and women as tennis professionals.
The tennis industry should pattern its workforce efforts after successful workforce development programs in industries where there is cooperation between the training organizations and the organizations that hire workers. In the case of the tennis industry, there would be cooperation between the training organizations (PTR, ITA, USTA, and ITA) and the facilities that hire tennis professionals. Input is essential from tennis facility owners and managers who know what is needed to make their tennis facilities successful. A relationship with these leaders is necessary for developing employee attraction and retention strategies that ensure an ongoing quality workforce.
Moving forward, the USTA and teaching associations must address the workforce crisis by focusing on their primary mission - serving the TENNIS industry. Said differently, they must follow best practices used in other industries to become the workforce development centers for the tennis industry. In the current economic environment, where there is an undersupply of quality tennis professionals, these organizations must do more than conduct certifications, provide webinars and conferences, and track continuing education points. They are responsible for providing a workforce that makes the industry stronger.
In the best of circumstances, workforce development is very challenging. It is an investment the leaders of the tennis industry must make in order to work through the current workforce crisis and ensure a robust industry in the future.
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